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America is truly the land of the free and the 
home of the eccentric. 

In a country where individualism is 
synonymous with citizenship, it s difficult 
to imagine just how shocking, outlandish, 
gregarious, asocial and hilarious- 
America s individuals are. But in this 
lively collection of 140 biographies, the 
incredible extremes to which some 
Americans have taken their civil liberties is 
richly portrayed and choicely documented. 

From pilgrims to prohibitionists, colo 
nial governors to Wild West characters 
indeed, from the earliest days of our nation 
to the present America s eccentrics have 
been as much a part of our history as the 
Constitution itself. There was Stephen 
Bachiler, for instance, who landed in Bos 
ton in 1632 and distinguished himself as 
America s first man of the cloth to cater to 
the "spiritual needs" of his female parish 
ioners only. Or John Cleves Symmes, who, 
by the time of his death in 1829, had per 
suaded even government brass to embrace 
his Hollow Earth theory but not without 
first securing affidavits from eminent 
physicians testifying to his sanity. And 
Victorian-era brothel owner John Allen, 
who used his dance hall to preach to his 
prostitutes. And Arizona-born William 
"Russian Bill" Tattenbaum, who made his 
living by telling lies. Or William Lawson, 
who in 1943 founded a school in Iowa that 
fortunately failed to change the course of 
education in America. Or recluse Helen 
Brach, wife of the candy magnate, whose 
vital status is in question to this day. 

(continued on back flap) 




IQCTU* 81 

: SFP 1 3 1993 

FEB. 4 




For my daughter Karen 



Special thanks must be given to Ed Knappman of Facts On File 
for his advice and guidance in the writing of this book. Additional 
important contributions were made by "Filers" Joseph Reilly, 
Kate Kelly, Eleanor Wedge, Robin Smith, Susan Brooker, and 
Debbie Glasserman, as well as designer Oksana Kushnir and copy 
editor Marcia Golub. 


Introduction xv 

Stephen Bachiler (1561-1662): THE AMOROUS PARSON ... 1 
Anonymous (1589?-early 19th century): 


Sam Hyde (1626-1732): THE CRAZY INDIAN 6 

John Rogers (P-1721): TUMULTUOUS JOHN 9 

Edward Hyde Cornbury (1661-1723): 


Bathsheba Bowers (1671-1718): LOVE S SOLITAIRE 13 

Benjamin Lay (c.1681-1759): THE REBELLIOUS GNOME ... 15 

John Richardson (c. 1690-1 738): THE GREAT SEDUCER 18 

Joseph Moody (1700-1753): HANDKERCHIEF MOODY 21 

Samuel Andrew Peters (1735-1826): 


Mother Ann Lee (1736-1784): ANN THE WORD 23 

Elisha Perkins (1740-1799): 


Mary Burton (fl. 1741): THE GREAT INFORMER 26 

Tom Cook (1741-?): THE LEVELLER 27 

Timothy Dexter (1747-1806): 


Anonymous (early 18th century): 


John McQuain (fl. late 18th century): 


Francis Adam Joseph Phyle (P-1778): 


Jemima Wilkinson (1752P-1819): 


Sarah Bishop (c.1753-1810): 


Johann Georg Rapp (1757-1847): GOD S PARTNER 41 

William Augustus Bowles (1763-1805): 



Robert the Hermit (c. 1 769-1 832) : 


John Randolph (1773-1833): 


John Chapman (c.l774-c. 1847): JOHNNY APPLESEED 51 

Lorenzo Dow (1777-1834): 


David Wilbur (1778P-1848): THE PUMPKIN SCRATCHER. . . 57 
John Cleves Symmes (1780-1829): 


Richard M.Johnson (1780-1850): 


William Miller (1782-1849): PROPHET OF DOOM 63 

Theophilus Gates (1787-1846): THE BATTLE AXE OF SEX . . 66 
Joseph Palmer (1788-1875): BATTLER FOR THE BEARD ... 69 
Sylvester Graham (1794-1851): 


James Lick (1796-1876): THE FOLLY-BUILDER 73 

James Johns (1797-1874): 


John McDowall (P-1838): THE WHOREFINDER GENERAL. . 77 
Richard Harper (?-c.l839): CHICAGO S OLD VAGRANT. ... 79 

George W. Henry (1801-1888): THE HOLY SHOUTER 81 

Albeit Large (c.1805-?): 


Jane Means Pierce (1806-1863): 


Sam Patch (c.1807-1829): "THE GREAT DESCENDER" 86 

Daniel Pratt (1809-1887): 


"Windwagon" Thomas Smith (cl810-?): 


John Humphrey Noyes (1811-1886): 


James Wilson Marshall (1812-1885): 


Lee Ah Bow (c.1814-1912): "DEVIL APPO" 98 

Maria Monk (1817-1849): 


Dennis O Sullivan (1818-1 907) : 


Joshua A. Norton (1819-1880): 


Boston Corbett (1822-?): 


Jules Bourglay (c. 1824- 1 889): 


John Johnston (1826?- 1900): 


George Francis Train (1829-1904): 


Hinton Rowan Helper (1829-1909): 


John Allen (c 1830-?): 


Black Bart (Charles E. Bolton) (1830-?): 


Dr. Mary Walker (1832-1919): 


Dick Baiter (1834-1859): RATTLESNAKE DICK 128 

Hetty Green ( 1 834- 1916): 


Ellen Walsh (1838-1932): THE FAKE SOCIALITE 134 

Cyrus Reed Teed (1839-1908): THE INSIDE-OUT MAN .... 135 
Sarah Pardee Winchester (1839-1922): 


George "Snatchem" Leese (fl. c. 1840s- 1860s): 


LillieCoit (1842-1929): "5" 141 

Anthony Comstock ( 1 844- 1915): 


Charles R. Sherman (1844-1921): 


John Alexander Dowie (1847-1907): 


Martha Jane Cannary (c. 1848- 1903): CALAMITY JANE 150 

Nick Goodall (1849?- 1884): NICK THE FIDDLER 154 

Charles Kusz (1849-1884): MR. HATE 156 

Henrietta Edwardina Schaefer Garrett (1849-1930): 


Robert Matthews (fl. early 1800s): 


ison and Pete Wells (fl. mid- 19th century): 


Joe Higginbotham (fl. mid- 19th century): BUCKSKIN JOE ... 163 
Dan Pound (fl. mid- 19th century): 


Lizzie Collins (fl. 1 850s- 1 860s) : THE COLLECTOR 1 65 

Charlie Parkhurst (P-1879): 


Thomas Greene Bethune (1850-1908): BLIND TOM 168 

John Sutliff (fl. 19th century): THE LOST MOLE 170 

John Curran (fl. late 19th century): THE JAIL GROUPIE .... 172 
James "Butt" Riley (late 19th century): 


Oofty Goofty (P-1896): MASOCHIST S DELIGHT 175 

John "One Lung" Curran (?-c. 1900s): 


Johnny Alee (1853-1887): "THE EATIEST FOOL" 178 

James A. Harden-Hickey (1854-1898): 


Marshall B. Gardner (1854-1937): 


William Tattenbaum (1855-1881): 


Bet-A-Million (John W.) Gates (1855-191 1): 


James Buchanan "Diamond Jim" Brady (1856-1917): 


Frederick Wittrock (1858-1921): 


Stephen Senior (1859-1924): 


Frederick Henry Prince (1859-1953): 


Cornelius K.G. Billings (1861-1931): 


"Blackjack" Tom Ketchum (1862P-1901): 


Joseph Bivens, Jr. (c.1862-1912): 


Sam Ketchum (1864-1899): THE STUPIDEST OUTLAW ... 202 

Edmund Franz Creffield (1868-1906): JOSHUA II 202 

James Eads How (1868-1930): 


Ned Green (1868-1936): 


Mary Mallon (1868-1938): "TYPHOID MARY" 211 

Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944): 


Bernarr MacFadden (1868-1955): 


James Leo "One-Eyed" Connelly (1869-1953): 


Alfred William Lawson (1869-1954): THE GREATEST 223 

Wilbur Glenn Voliva (1870-1942): 



A. Van Home Stuyvesant (1870-1953): 


Charlotte (1870-?) and Katherine (1872-?) Poillon: 


William Smith (c.1870-?): 


Sylvia Green Wilks (1871-1951): 


William Henry "Burro" Schmidt (1871-1954): 


Charles Fort (1874-1932): THE ENIGMA 240 

George Francis Gillette (1875-?): 


Emerichjuettner, (1875-?): MR. 880 246 

Charles G. Gates (1876-1913): GREAT PLUNGER II 248 

Erich Muenter (1880-1915): 


OtaBenga (1881-1916): THE ZOO MAN 252 

Homer (1881-1947) and Langley (1885-1947) Collyer: 


Theodore Coneys (1882-1948): 


"Dr." John R. Brinkley (1885-1942): 


Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly (1885?-1952): 


Edward Leedskalnin (1887-1951): 


Anonymous (fl. c.!890s-1900s): THE FRENCH MAID 267 

Hugo Diederich (fl. 1890s-1920): 


George Adamski (1890-1965): 


Stanley Clifford Weyman (1891-1960): 


The Cherry Sisters (fl. 1893-1903): 


Tommy Manville (1895-1967): 


William James Sidis (1898-1944): 


James Marion West, Jr. (1903-1957): 


Jimmy Slattery (1904-1960): 


Helen Brach (191 1-?): THE CINDERELLA RECLUSE 287 

Wendel Sisters (fl. 1914-1932): FAMILY OF MISERS 288 


OricBovar (1917-1977): 


Rose Dym (1917- ): BROADWAY ROSE 294 

John R. Keys (P-1943): THE $1.27- A-WEEK MISER 295 

Helene (P-1945) and Beatrice (-P-1934) Herzog: 


Ferdinand Waldo Demara, Jr. (1921-1982): 


The Romero Family (fl. 1924-late 1950s): 


Sandra Ilene West (1940-1977): 


Morris Pop Corn (fl. 1950s-1970s): 


Index 309 



It is not easy to be an eccentric in America today. At first glance, it 
might not seem too difficult. All that appears necessary is a bit of 
engaging, or perhaps obnoxious, deviant behavior and you are an 
instant eccentric. However, we Americans no longer are the tolerant 
social beings we once were. 

Today, more than ever in our history, we accept in only a few 
the sane whimsy or crazy sanity that marks a true eccentric. An 
ordinary person is no longer trusted with such traits. We generally 
apply a class test to judge behavior: If you are poor and act bi- 
zarrely, you re crazy and perhaps dangerous. 

If few poor persons can make the grade, virtually no middle- 
class person would dare to try, preferring strict conformity over 
eccentric chic. Only the very rich can be humored in their eccen 
tricity. This was not true in colonial days or in the first three or four 
generations of the new nation. Rich, poor, and in-between, early 
American eccentrics were, if not honored, regarded as a diverting 
and even beneficial ingredient in a new nation without completely 
fixed social hierarchy or identity. 

As American society came of age, we somewhere along the line 
lost our appreciation for poor or middle-class eccentrics; only the 
super-rich now seem to be both amazing and unthreatening in their 
deviations from normal standards of behavior. Most important, 
they have the wherewithal to cater to their whims without becoming 
public charges. For example, there was Horseback Billings, the 
chairman of the board of Union Carbide, who threw the most gro 
tesque dinner in American history. He had his guests, horse lovers 
all, eat in the ballroom of Louis Sherry s famous New York restau 
rant while mounted on their steeds, partaking of a $250-a-plate 
pheasant dinner from feed bags and guzzling champagne from 
large rubber casks. The cost of the feast came to $50,000, including 
the planting of sod on the ballroom floor and its later removal with 
a rather noticeable amount of manure, a fact of nature, the society 
writers sniffed, that diminished the elegance of the event. Still, 

xvi Introduction 

Billings squandering ways brought him fame, just as the fabulously 
rich and miserly Hetty Green was celebrated for hardly ever part 
ing with a dime. We still celebrate the recluse if he is a millionaire, 
a la the Collyer brothers, or, if only a poor man, one who turns out 
to be a secret miser like Stephen Senior who played the poor beg 
gar, but used thousands of dollar bills to insulate the porous walls 
of his rude shack from the subzero blasts of wind. 

Overall, we prefer the rich who flaunt it. Berry Wall could 
change his attire at Saratoga Springs forty times in a single day to 
win the nickname "King of the Dudes." Mrs. Jack Gardner, a main 
stay of Boston society, could indulge herself by paying Paderewski 
$3,000 to conceal himself behind a screen and play at teatime for 
an elderly friend and herself. 

This book is arranged in rough chronological order, and what 
becomes apparent as we read about 20th-century eccentrics is that 
most of them are rich. Those not blessed with wealth such as 
compulsives Burro Schmidt, the human mole; Edward Leedskal- 
nin, the builder of Florida s amazing coral castle; Shipwreck Kelly, 
the flagpole sitter; and One-Eyed Connelly, the great gate 
crasher were required to perform impressive deeds. Johnny Ap- 
pleseed may be celebrated in story and verse today, but he and 
other strange itinerants such as Jules Bourlay, the Old Leather Man, 
would more likely be rousted as cranks or derelicts, striking chords 
of fear in the minds of modern Americans, rather than treated 
with the charity and respect earlier Americans gave them. Rather 
than being permitted to practice their acts of ethics or contrition, 
and even offered bed and board, they would be relegated to fringe 
society and regarded as outlaws. The 20th-century counterparts of 
Calamity Jane, as well as the grizzled loner prospectors who had no 
real interest in striking it rich, are to be found in every big city in 
America as bag ladies and homeless men. We no longer honor 
such individuals with colorful nicknames. They are suffered in si 
lence while our gaze is fixed elsewhere. A century or two ago the 
rules of social intercourse were broader, and eccentrics, rich or 
poor, were tolerated and excuses sought for their behavior. 

Each society creates the ground rules for its own eccentrics, 
and the standards constantly change. Many well-known eccentrics 
of the 18th and 19th centuries find no place in this volume because 
they cannot meet present-day criteria. The Reverend George H. 
Munday is one. He was noted in Philadelphia in the first quarter of 
the last century for an idiosyncrasy that would not cause a ripple 
today. Yet, Philadelphians gathered by the hundreds to listen to the 

Introduction xvii 

torrential sermons of the Reverend Mr. Munday whom they re 
ferred to as the "Hatless Preacher." For that was the sum total of 
his erratic behavior, that he was a man of the cloth who wore no hat 
in this capital of hat-wearing Quakers. 

Of more lasting fame, although his deviations would be of 
minor mettle today, was Joseph Palmer who became one of the most 
hated eccentrics of the 1830s, subjected to what is now mind-bog 
gling persecution. His offense: wearing a beard at a time when no 
Americans did so. For this he was sneered at, denounced as a "de 
generate," stoned, and finally arrested. Ironically, within two 
decades beards became commonplace, and not long afterward 
Abraham Lincoln became the first of several U.S. presidents to 
sport whiskers. 

As the fabric from which the eccentric is cut changes, some say 
eccentricity is vanishing from the American scene. They are unim 
pressed by the so-called nonconformists of the recent past the 
longhairs, the acidheads, the bearded ones (again) denying that 
these are true eccentrics. They are probably correct: These sup 
posed aberrations are in fact the conformity of their own genera 
tion. As sociologist Werner Cahnman has stated: "Eccentricity 
frequently becomes only the transition between two conformities." 

Not long ago Time magazine bewailed what it called "the sad 
state of eccentricity" in the United States. Where were those, it 
asked, with "the grand style and creative bursts . . . that marked the 
golden age of English eccentrics, among them one exotic aristocrat 
who habitually dined with dogs dressed as humans and another 
who spent his life trying to breed a symmetrically spotted mouse." 

In what may have been almost an act of desperation, the pub 
lication tried to churn up interest in possible eccentrics among some 
of its own targets; it settled especially on atheist Madalyn Murray 
O Hair, whom it saw as a person with "more religious fervor than 
anyone since Cotton Mather," and twitted for her announcement, 
"I m no eccentric. I m the leader of a valid movement." In any event 
TzWs effort to pin the label of eccentricity on O Hair by citing such 
statements of hers as "I will separate church and state, by God!" 
falls a bit short of convincing. 

Dismissing one s opponents as eccentrics has become the 
American way of battle. When Ralph Nader first set his aim on the 
least enviable accomplishments in matters of car safety, the officials 
of General Motors sought to tar him with the eccentric brush. What 
else could a male American be who didn t even own an automobile? 

Who then is the real eccentric in modern America? Harvard 

xviii Introduction 

sociologist Peter McEwan described him as a person who is "ex 
traordinarily secure. Other people are either wrong or going about 
life ineffectually. He thinks that he has the answer." 

The U.S. Census, alas, does not classify and count eccentrics, 
but even the most casual research makes it readily apparent that an 
earlier America had many more, from the likes of Appleseed to 
Thoreau, marching to their own drummers. 

Is the record different elsewhere? The British Isles have long 
been reputed to be the most fertile breeding ground for eccentric 
ity, and it is said that the British embrace engaging practitioners of 
the odd and bizarre in a manner no other people has achieved. 
That may well be more myth than reality, especially in the present. 
Dame Edith Sitwell in her 1957 classic English Eccentrics finds no 
way to break the 20th-century barrier in quest of delightful de 

The study of eccentrics hardly achieves the level of a science, 
and most generalizations prove no more dependable than their sub 
jects. Are there really more English eccentrics than Americans; if 
so, why? Do the English truly honor their eccentrics more, or is it 
simply a case that they produce more eccentric people? There are 
those observers who insist an island country that suffers over 200 
days of rainfall a year has a running start toward unusual behavior. 
On the other hand, England s colonial cousins certainly have no 
trouble matching their overseas eccentric counterparts, quirk for 

Major Peter Labelliere, described by Sitwell as "a Christian 
patriot and Citizen of the World," was so disenchanted with the 
state of the planet that he declared in his will that "as the world was 
turned topsyturvy, it was fit that he should be so buried that he 
might be right at last." An American counterpart in odd burials 
could well be Texas-born millionairess Sandra Ilene West who had 
a love affair with automobiles; upon her death at the age of 37 she 
was buried, according to her instructions, "next to my husband . . . 
in my Ferrari, with the seat slanted comfortably." A shade more 
materialistic in outlook than the good major perhaps, but Labelliere 
made his departure in 1800 and West in 1977; materialism by the 
later date had had its impact on the appreciation, and indeed the 
definition, of eccentricity. 

Among odd members of the clergy Sitwell offers the Reverend 
Mr. Jones, curate of Blewberry in Berkshire, who wore the same 
hat and coat during the 43 years of his curacy. When, after some 
35 years the brim of his hat had worn away, he stole the hat from a 
scarecrow and appropriated its brim; jet black and tar-twined, it fit 

Introduction xix 

rather jarringly to his own brown crown. Then too there was the 
Reverend Mr. Trueman who stole turnips in the field as he trekked 
on his works of righteousness among the farms of Daventry. Cajol 
ing invitations to spend the night, the Reverend Mr. Trueman 
would pinch "the red or white worsted out of the corners of the 
blankets, and with these variegated pickings he mended his clothes 
and his stockings." 

These gentlemen suffered from the sin of parsimony, but their 
behavior passes as trivial oddity compared to Handkerchief Moody, 
a pastor in York, Maine, who for the final two decades of his pas- 
torage wore a fold of crepe knotted above the forehead, covering 
all his facial features. In church he preached with his back to the 
congregation, his masked appearance adding unneeded elements 
of dreariness to both weddings and funerals. Of course, the Rev 
erend Mr. Moody had a heavier cross to bear complicated moti 
vation best left to his entry than either Reverend Messrs. Jones or 

The writing of any book requires the author to start with pre 
conceived notions, but even the most logical-sounding theories on 
eccentrics teeter. It certainly seems logical, and rather profound, to 
declare we can measure a society by the way it treats its eccentrics. 
Sadly, the facts soon intervene. As surprising as it seems, the true 
eccentric probably thrived as much in Nazi Germany as in demo 
cratic England, despite the latter s concept of personal liberty for 
the individual. 

Nazi Germany may have been barbarous to its mental defec 
tives, yet, even under the stress of war, the Nazis could not escape 
what may be called the Captain of Kopenick Syndrome, named 
after Wilhelm Voight s character who won the hearts of the German 
people by his eccentric belittling of the German army. 

Thus, even though during World War II the rooting out of 
"defeatists" became a Hitlerite obsession, scores of offenders picked 
up by security forces for declaring the war was lost suffered no 
worse fate than a lecture by the Gestapo. Then they were released 
(after a check on possible Jewish ancestry, of course). Belittling of 
Nazi demigods was far more rife than Germany s opponents could 
have guessed. All of Munich could laugh about the fish peddlar 
who was snatched up for hawking his wares: "Hering, Bering, sofett 
wie Goring: ("Herring, herring, as fat as Goring.") Arrested and 
interrogated by the Gestapo, the man was back peddling his wares 
after a mere three weeks imprisonment, announcing: "Hering, Her 
ing, so fett wie vor drei Wochen" ("Herring, herring, as fat as three 
weeks ago.") 

xx Introduction 

Naturally, the fact that Himmler s S.S. and Goring s Luftwaffe 
were jealous rivals helped the heroic peddlar. But even the Gestapo 
itself could be hoaxed, as was Luftwaffe intelligence, by a young 
Austrian private named Elfried Schmidt, celebrated by author 
Joseph Wechsberg as The Man Who Fooled Hitler, 

Before he was even 20, Schmidt far outdid Voight s Captain 
from Kopenick of 30-odd years earlier. Schmidt masqueraded as 
Ingenieur Honoris Causa, claiming to have been personally so dubbed 
by the Fiihrer himself in the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. He got 
this "award" for having provided the Third Reich with the designs 
of an electric diesel rail car. Hitler had been supposedly so im 
pressed by Herr Engineer Schmidt s invention that he had even 
slipped him his secret telephone number in case he ever had any 

Of course, none of this ever happened, but Schmidt parlayed 
his daring tale into an honored position of fame in his home village 
outside Vienna. He strutted through town wearing a special silver 
fourragere or cord on his left side also an alleged special dispensa 
tion from Hitler. 

Later Schmidt was drafted into the Luftwaffe and served as a 
common private until his superiors were made aware circuitously 
by Schmidt of his special standing. Why had he not informed 
them, flustered officers asked. He said he simply wanted "to do my 
duty like any other soldier." 

Kanonier Schmidt was immediately relieved of all military du 
ties and provided with private quarters where he could perform his 
special work. He didn t stay in barracks but slept in Vienna, report 
ing to the base at 8 A.M. When he entered, the sentry called out the 
guard of honor, which was done only for the garrison commander 
and general officers. 

Later Schmidt was transferred to Luftgaukommando XVII 
and assigned to Secret Projects, studying drawings of foreign air 
craft engines that had been obtained by the German Secret Service. 
Schmidt s downfall came when Colonel-General Eduard von Lohr 
decided that, despite the Fiihrer s fascination with a brilliant pri 
vate, the young Austrian deserved officer rank. He forwarded his 
recommendation to the Air Ministry and in due course Schmidt 
was exposed. 

Brought before a Luftwaffe court, Schmidt was charged with 
being a foreign spy, a far more rational view than the one Schmidt 
was to advance. Happily for Schmidt he wrote a letter to a girl 
friend in his home village, bewailing his fate and that he was 

Introduction xxi 

charged with spying when actually he had taken up the imperson 
ation simply to impress her. The letter was seized when he tried to 
have it smuggled out of his cell. 

By the time the trial started, the military was convinced that 
Schmidt was not a foreign agent, but rather merely "verruckt" or 
eccentric. The judges frequently tittered during the trial and even 
the chief prosecutor had trouble keeping a straight face. The pre 
siding judge burst into laughter as testimony revealed Schmidt s 
frustrated love life. 

The espionage charge against him was dropped; Schmidt was 
convicted of "forging an official diploma," of "unjustified use of an 
academic title," and of "insolently exploiting the name of the Fuh- 
rer and Reichskanzler." It was clear the order had come down from 
high one can only speculate how high to end the matter expe- 

Schmidt was sentenced to six months imprisonment, did only 
three, and served out the war as an ordinary soldier. When Schmidt 
married in 1940 the army forced him to wear his old uniform with 
the silver fourragere so that his home villagers would not be suspi 
cious. At the time the Nazis did not want the truth out. 

The eccentric label is often applied loosely and too frequently. 
It is easy now to view with amusement the babblings of erratic 
pseudoscientists and flat-earthers, as well as those we have dubbed 
UFO-nuts, but that was the same fate suffered in their respective 
days by both Galileo and Freud. It would be easy to classify the 
Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford as eccentric be 
cause they all held to some wild-eyed theories or suffered from 
bizarre conduct or belief, but their serious accomplishments far 
outweigh their peccadilloes. In fact, their touches of madness may 
have sparked their genius. Nonetheless, they fail to qualify as full- 
time, card-carrying eccentrics. Nor will Douglas "Wrong Way" Cor- 
rigan qualify as one, even though he achieved fame in July 1938 for 
taking off from New York for Los Angeles, flying instead through 
fog to Dublin, Ireland, allegedly by mistake. He captured the imag 
ination of the country and was dubbed by journalists as an eccentric 
of the clouds but, alas, he did nothing for an encore and his feat 
remains, the suspicion never downed, more commercial than er 

The true eccentric follows his own rules of behavior 24 hours 
a day because he knows his code is the right one and everyone 
else is wrong; because he does not want to compete by conventional 
standards; or because eccentricity seems the only way to gain rec- 

xxii Introduction 

ognition as an individual. Even among the super-rich, there are 
those who turn to the outrageous in their desire not to be consid 
ered just another millionaire. 

Even Howard Hughes, the so-called billionaire recluse dubbed 
by Fortune "the Spook of American capitalism," is given more credit 
for bizarre behavior than he is entitled to. If Hughes was a true 
eccentric, he was only one in his final years, when age tipped the 
scale. His earlier loner behavior was more often a convenient and 
calculated method of avoiding subpoenas that would have hauled 
him before various judicial and legislative bodies. Hughes behavior 
during his moviemaking days reflected little more than that of a 
big-shot Hollywood lecher. And certainly Hughes did not buy up 
so much of Las Vegas real estate because, as the lurid press hyped 
the facts, he wanted a city in which to be alone. Rather it repre 
sented a vital multimillion-dollar dodge to avoid the undistributed 
profits tax. It was a matter of either spending the money or giving 
it to the government. Howard Hughes was simply too cunning to 
be dismissed as a compleat eccentric. 

When we shut ourselves off from authentically unconventional 
people, we lose an important way to put conventional wisdom to the 
test. When we fail to nurture eccentrics, we run the risk of turning 
conventionality into the greatest eccentricity of all. We rob ourselves 
of joy. The "town character" is becoming less of a fixture. Wide 
spread conformity is allowing fewer and fewer exceptions. 

New York s Mohawk Valley is renowned for its historical leg 
ends, but it is just as rich in its heritage of "characters." Fort Plain 
may be regarded as a sleepy sort of community, but it has its own 
legends, one of which concerns an unlikely 19th-century pair, Wells 
Grant and Winnie (no one alive and no written records provide us 
with the latter s last name), who became the talk of the village 
because of their physical statures. Wells was all of two feet four 
inches tall, and he never saw a big woman without falling in love. 
By contrast Winnie towered seven feet six inches, and he loved most 
of all his dogs and of course Wells. The pair was inseparable. Shy 
with women, Winnie took delight in the town s first fire company 
and was deeply touched when it was named the Winnie Hose Com 
pany. Winnie and Wells were the grand masters of all parades in 
the town as long as they lived, and when they died, Fort Plain buried 
them next to each other. 

Another charmer of Fort Plain was John Baxter whose greatest 
thrill was watching boats on the canal. Young John one day decided 
he was going to build his own boat with which to navigate the canal, 
and he spent an entire winter constructing a stream runabout in 

Introduction xxiii 

his cellar. Only when he was finished did John realize his craft was 
too big to get out of the cellar. 

Undaunted, John ripped a gaping hole in the cellar wall and 
got his beloved creation to the water. The whole town turned out 
the day John was ready to launch. John polished his equipment, 
tooted his whistle, and shouted to his beaming mother on the canal 
bank, "Here I go, Ma!" 

John certainly did go straight to the bottom of the canal. 

John Baxter had his fill of boat-building, and he never made 
another one, but for decades thereafter he never forgot his first 
one. The children would follow him, shouting, "Toot, toot, here I 
go, Ma," and old John would chase them with his cane. 

Wells, Winnie, and John are still remembered fondly in Fort 
Plain, their eccentricities still worth a chuckle. 

In Queens, New York City, today there is an elderly man who 
shops at a Queens Boulevard supermarket. After he pays, his cus 
tom is to leave a tip of $2 and some silver for the cashier. As he 
leaves, the cashier, pocketing the money, will shake his or her head 
and, twirling a finger at the temple in a familiar motion, explain to 
other customers, "The nut does that with all the cashiers." 

Queens is today s reality. We will not see Fort Plain and its 
eccentrics again. 

Bachiler, Stephen (1561-1662) 


Playing the game of ascribing "firsts" is a pastime filled with pitfalls, 
but there seems to be good reason, chronologically speaking, to 
believe the Reverend Stephen Bachiler was the first man of the 
cloth in America to fall victim to the adoring women of his parish 
(or vice versa). Mr. Bachiler arrived in New Boston aboard the 
William 6f Francis on June 5, 1632, after a voyage of 88 days. 

During that long voyage, a chronicler noted, he "found it nec 
essary to have spiritual understanding with almost every woman 
on board." What made Mr. Bachiler all the more noteworthy was 
his age 71. Mr. Bachiler over the next 30 years apparently some 
thing in his doings agreed with him was the epitome of the 
naughty parson. 

Some observers, including Governor Winthrop, record his 
doings with considerable distaste. Wrote Winthrop: 

Mr. Bachiler, the pastor of the church at Hampton, who 
had suffered much at the hands of the bishops in England, 
being about eighty years of age and having a lusty, comely 
woman to his wife, did sollicit the chastity of his neighbour s 
wife, who acquainted her husband therewith; Whereupon he 
was dealt with, but denied it, as he had told the woman he 
would do, and complained to the magistrate against the 
woman and her husband for slandering him. 

The record is unclear, but there were some "mostly daugh 
ters and sons-in-law" who contended that until that invigorating 
ocean voyage Mr. Bachiler was devoid of lecherous conduct. If that 
were so, perhaps it was his very age and appearance tall, with 
white hair that created the impression of a halo that caused the 
feminine heart to thrill at being in the presence of a "saint." What 
ever it was, Mr. Bachiler had his way with the women aboard the 

2 Bachiler, Stephen 

William 6f Francis, and through his veins surged the sensations of a 

Over the next 19 years of his busy life, Mr. Bachiler was a 
demon for his church. Well ahead of his time, he argued for a "Holy 
House without ceremonies," a church totally free of the influence 
and control of the state. This was a century and a half before the 
Founding Fathers were to write the Constitution, which incorpo 
rates that separation. But in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of Mr. 
Bachiler s time, church and state were inseparable. 

Mr. Bachiler first set up his Holy House in Saugus, which was 
later to become Lynn. Among his flock were six of his relatives and 
a few friends, especially some of the women with whom he had 
dallied aboard ship. Some were single or widowed, others married; 
these wives apparently pressured their husbands to follow the good 

The "strange power" Mr. Bachiler had, which, he was to aver, 
perplexed him considerably, enabled him "to convey the word of 
God lucidly to good wives and turgidly to men." Trouble started 
within a matter of months, and it was seized on quickly by Winthrop 
and the civil authorities in Boston, who resented such talk about a 
church separable from the state. It was exactly for such talk and 
other "churchly grounds" that he had been condemned by the En 
glish bishops. In the New World, he was again condemned, this 
time for his "moral frailty" and his magnetic power over the weaker 

Thus, in October 1632, the reverend was arraigned in court in 
Boston. The verdict brought in that "Mr. Bachiler is required to 
forebeare exercising his gifts as a pastor . . . until some scandles be 

Mr. Bachiler returned to Saugus with a heavy heart over the 
charge of "scandles." He asked permission to leave the place, but 
several women came to him, begging him to offer a prayer meeting. 
This led to new troubles and Stephen Bachiler s rearrest. Finally, in 
February 1636, Mr. Bachiler removed to Ipswich with his family 
and a few friends. 

Matters proved no different there. All the women of the parish 
left the church their husbands had formed to take up worship 
under Mr. Bachiler. In exasperation a few husbands joined the new 
church, but most remained hostile. It was only a matter of time, Mr. 
Bachiler knew, until they would take their complaints to the magis 
trates, and he would again be refused permission to preach. 

Mr. Bachiler decided to leave before he was overwhelmed by 
new "scandles," and so he led his flock to land granted on the 

Bachiler, Stephen 3 

peninsula of Cape Cod. Between the community of Sandwich and 
one down the Cape at Eastham, they established a new home at 

Mr. Bachiler was happy. He preached, laughed a good deal, 
and drank too much wine; and when his wife Helena was not look 
ing, he chucked the "maides of Hampton" under their pretty chins. 
Hampton attracted new residents and Mr. Bachiler s success as a 
leader of a new community attracted offers from other towns. New- 
bury promised much land if he would move there. Ipswich wanted 
him back and dangled a large grant for a stay of three years. 

Mr. Bachiler preferred to remain in Hampton, where his hold 
ings grew to 300 acres. He was comfortable with his flock, especially 
the women. Unfortunately, he could not restrain his amatory be 
havior. Husbands seethed and finally brought in a rival parson to 
establish another parish. Arguments arose in most Hampton homes 
as to which church to attend. Finally, in 1641, charges of unchastity 
were brought against him. Mr. Bachiler replied by calling the 
charges slanders, and his contention, much to the dismay of Gov 
ernor Winthrop, was accepted. 

Having been cleared, Mr. Bachiler, it might be thought, would 
have rejoiced. But the parson was overwhelmed by a sense of re 
morse. He stood before his congregation to fully admit his 
transgressions. He walked from his church back to his home, await 
ing the call of the deacons to dispossess him. When they came, these 
men, many of whom had been constantly suspicious of their reli 
gious mentor, proved rather charitable, allowing him to keep his 

Mr. Bachiler s conversion to righteousness had a stirring effect 
upon his parishioners. By late in the year they petitioned for his 
full restoration to the church. In an age of stern punishment, Mr. 
Bachiler s treatment was unusual, to say the least. It cannot be said 
to have been very salutary. He went on chucking pretty girls under 
the chin and calling on the housewives of Hampton. When he con 
fessed, Stephen Bachiler showed perhaps that he had in him the 
stuff that made martyrs. But he was pardoned his sins, and he went 
on to demonstrate that he was incapable of being a saint certainly 
not day after day. 

The "troubles" ensued again. All through these tribulations his 
wife, Helena his second wife, the first having died years earlier in 
England tolerated him, fed him, and kept his house. Then one 
day it burned to the ground. An accident? The vengeful act of some 
cuckolded husbands? No one knew for sure. Mr. Bachiler was of 
fered a post in Exeter, but the colonial court refused permission 

4 Bachiler, Stephen 

because of his "evil reputation." So Mr. Bachiler wandered north, 
trying a dozen different churches. Always there were the troubles. 

When he was 89 his wife died. His daughter offered him a 
home in retirement in Sandwich. Mr. Bachiler refused. He could 
not take such inactivity, not with the heart of an 18-year-old. 

When he was 90, Mr. Bachiler took a third wife, Mary. "Beau 
tiful as dawn" she was, and the parson was happy, if only for a 
matter of a few months. Then he discovered she was an adulteress. 
He was crushed and asked for an immediate divorce. Mary was not 
averse. She denounced her husband as a hypocrite, one guilty of all 
the same sins she had committed. 

If Mr. Bachiler was stung by the scandal of it all, his chagrin 
was to grow unbounded when the court refused his plea for di 
vorce, stating: 

It is ordered by this Court that Mr. Bachiler and his wife 
shall lyve together as man and wife as in this Court they have 
publicly professed to doe; and if either desert one another 
then hereby the court doth order that the marshal shall ap 
prehend both the said Mr. B. and Mary, his wife, and bring 
them forthwith to Boston. 

The old parson was sickened at the thought of being forced to 
share his roof with a confessed adulteress. He would be a laughing 
stock. Cuckolded husbands would laugh at his plight, and Mary 
would do worse. 

Secretly, alone and on foot, he set out for Boston, seeking 
passage on a ship bound for England, where he could be free of 
the disgrace. Mr. Bachiler was on board when he learned that Mary 
had been convicted of new offenses and had been sentenced to 
"receive forty stripes save one, at the first town meeting held at 
Kittery six weeks after her delivery, and be branded with the letter 
A (for adultery)." 

It was a cruel punishment, and Mr. Bachiler debated returning 
to his errant wife and her bastard-to-be. He was torn over what to 
do. Then he met a young woman, barely more than a child, aboard 
ship. She was teary eyed, heartsick at going all the way to England, 
terrified of the travails. 

Mr. Bachiler asked what he could do to comfort her; the words 
issued with the feel of a caress. "Wilt thou stay near me on the 
voyage?" she asked. 

And so Mr. Bachiler returned to England. It would be fitting 
and proper to report that Mr. Bachiler mended his ways in his old 

Anonymous 5 

age. Alas, it cannot be so. Although he had never been granted a 
divorce from the naughty Mary, he married again, to another 
young woman; and he lived on happily, an actively social being, 
until he died at the age of 101. 

Anonymous (1589?-early 19th century) 

We know not why or when the Old Hermit of Western Virginia 
went to his cave, but a broadside around 1817 tells his tale. In June 
1816, John Fielding and Captain James Buckland went west from 
their Virginia homes to explore the wilderness. Their mapmaking 
was not as hardy and disciplined as their chronicling, and we do 
not know where precisely they were after 73 days of forded rivers 
and streams, scaled peaks, crossed flatlands, and battles with and 
evasions of wild beasts. But on an unnamed mountain they hap 
pened upon a cave and were startled indeed when, in answer to 
their shouts a precaution in case of animals dwelling within a 
hermit stepped out to greet them. 

He was ragged and bearded, but extremely talkative. He was 
only too happy to tell them who he was, save for his name. He said 
he was born in London in 1589. His visitors were a bit puzzled. Did 
he not know that it was now 1816? The hermit nodded in agree 
ment, noting that that was about the date he thought it to be. Then 
he went on. His father was an ordinary laborer, but he was fortu 
nate enough to be placed with a landed gentlemen who saw to it 
that he received an education. 

The boy thrived in his wholesome surroundings and, as was 
probably inevitable, he fell in love with his master s daughter. The 
noble s charity soon turned to boiling anger, in response to this. He 
forced them apart, a fate that proved too stern for the daughter, 
who died of grief. The boy too was sorrow-struck, and he ran away, 
shaking the dust of the English countryside from his boots. He 
made his way to the Continent, living by his wits until he reached 
Italy, where he shipped out as a sailor. 

6 Hyde, Sam 

He was aboard a vessel that foundered off the American coast, 
and the youth, separated from the rest of the survivors, if indeed 
there were any, began a long vagrancy that pulled him further and 
further west. He evaded Indians, and when at last he came upon 
the cave that was to be his home, he decided to remain there; it 
seemed to be a safe refuge from the savages. The more the men 
questioned the hermit, the more he convinced them that his knowl 
edge of the outside world ended in the early 1600s. He knew of 
Good Queen Bess and allegedly of little thereafter. 

Some observers have speculated that "Messrs. Buckland and 
Fielding might have fabricated their tale, but they seemed to be of 
"sound reputation." It could be that the hermit had heard of En 
gland s magnificent old man, Thomas Parr, who lived to be 152 
years old and died in 1635, after having been presented at court, 
and who was honored by being buried at Westminster Abbey. Per 
haps the hermit of the cave thought to outdo Old Parr, moving back 
his birth year in order to do so. But a man seldom achieves fame by 
hiding from the world. The blandishments of his visitors were not 
enough to lure the hermit the oldest American? from his wil 
derness home for the trivial comforts of civilization. As he pointed 
out, the animals were most gracious to him. Nightly they emerged 
from the forests and danced before his cave. Our anonymous her 
mit, whoever he was, evidently knew his Orpheus as well. 

Hyde, (Sam (1626-1732) 


Even today, although it is a custom changing with a changing 
society, the term "To lie like Sam Hyde" is a New England saying. 
Sam Hyde (or Hide) was an Indian in early colonial America, and 
he became the model for all the "crazy" Indians who inhabit the 
white man s lore. 

Clearly Sam did try to fool the white man, being mendacious 
to the extreme as well as crazy enough to even try. Many of the tales 
concerning his attempts to fool whites merely serve to bolster the 

Hyde, Sam 7 

white man s ego; but others demonstrate Hyde s cunning as well as 
indicate, at least by the whites standards, exercises in eccentricity 
in and of itself. 

Sam could become lost trying to fathom the white man s logic, 
and delighted whites told many tales about him, some perhaps 
exaggerations. One story often attributed to Sam concerns his 
being hired to guide two travelers through the forests. At a certain 
point, the white pair separated in order to study different areas of 
the woods. The one Sam remained with found some unusual ber 
ries, and he sent Sam; with a note specifying their number, to his 
companion. When Sam arrived with the berries, the fruit were far 
less in number than the note indicated. The second traveler ac 
cused Sam of eating the berries, and he sent him back for more. 
When Sam returned the second time, again the berries were short 
in number. Accused again, the puzzled Indian fell to his knees and 
kissed the note, indicating that he thought it had witch-doctor pow 
ers. He confessed he had eaten the berries, but the second time he 
had tried to make allowances for the paper s magic. He had care 
fully put it under a rock so it could not see him eating the berries. 

In 1841 Samuel Drake wrote his famed The Book of the Indians, 
and because Sam Hyde was still noted as a crazy and lying Indian, 
for a time Drake hesitated to include him for fear "we might not 
be thought serious in the rest of our work." Still, Sam was too engag 
ing to be omitted, and Drake could not resist the following anec 

"Sam Hide was a notorious cider-drinker as well as liar, and 
used to travel the country to and fro begging it from door to door. 
At one time he happened in a region of country where cider was 
very hard to be procured, either from its scarcity, or from Sam s 
frequent visits. However, cider he was determined to have, if lying, 
in any shape or color, would gain it. Being not far from the house 
of an acquaintance, who he knew had cider, but he knew, or was 
well satisfied, that, in the ordinary way of begging, he could not get 
it, he set his wits at work to lay a plan to insure it. This did not 
occupy him long. On arriving at the house of the gentleman, in 
stead of asking for cider, he inquired for the man of the house, 
whom, on appearing, Sam requested to go aside with him, as he had 
something of importance to communicate to him. When they were 
by themselves, Sam told him he had that morning shot a fine deer, 
and that, if he would give him a crown, he would tell him where it 
was. The gentleman did not incline to do this, but offered half a 
crown. Finally, Sam said, as he had walked a great distance that 
morning, and was very dry, for a half crown and a mug of cider he 

8 Hyde, Sam 

would tell him. This was agreed upon, and the price paid. Now Sam 
was required to point out the spot where the deer was to be found, 
which he did in this manner. He said to his friend, You know of such 
a meadow, describing it Yes You know a big ash tree, with a big top by 
the little brook Yes Well, under that tree lies the deer. This was satis 
factory, and Sam departed. It is unnecessary to mention that the 
meadow was found, and the tree by the brook, but no deer. The 
duped man could hardly contain himself on considering what he 
had been doing. To look after Sam for satisfaction would be worse 
than looking for the deer, so the farmer concluded to go home 
contented. Some years after, he happened to fall in with the Indian; 
and he immediately began to rally him for deceiving him so; and 
demanded back his money and pay for his cider and trouble. Why, 
said Sam, would you find fault if Indian told truth half the time? No 
Well, says Sam, you find him meadow? Yes You find him tree? Yes 
What for then you find fault Sam Hide, when he told you two truth to one 
lie? The affair ended here. Sam heard no more from the farmer." 

Clearly there can be a dispute on whether Sam Hyde was more 
crazy or cunning, but he imparted his characteristics, whatever they 
were, to many of his race as seen through white man s eyes. 

Drake adds: "He died in Dedham, 5 January, 1732, at the great 
age of 105 years. He was a great jester, and passed for an uncom 
mon wit. In all the wars against the Indians during his lifetime, he 
served the English faithfully, and had the name of a brave soldier. 
He had himself killed 19 of the enemy, and tried hard to make up 
the 20th but was unable." 

If Sam Hyde made that claim about his killings, he was lying 
once more. The account, as it turns out, can be traced to earlier 
accounts; clearly the hero involved was not him. He was simply lying 
like Sam Hyde. 

Rogers, John 9 

Rogers, John (9-1721) 


No man can be said to have more riled up religious Connecticut in 
the late 1600s than John Rogers. He led his disciples, called Roger- 
enes, in noisy, often violent confrontations with the more estab 
lished churches. 

To quote Benjamin TrumbulFs long-yellowed Complete History of 

The Rogerenes were a sort of Quaker, who had their 
origin and name from one John Rogers of New London. He 
was a man of unbounded ambition and wished to be some 
thing more than common man. ... To gratify his pride, and 
that he might appear as the head of a peculiar sect, he dif 
fered in several points from the Quakers. . . . 

The madness, immodesty and tumultuous conduct of 
Rogers and those who followed him, at this day, is hardly 
conceivable. It seemed to be their study and delight to violate 
the Sabbath, insult magistrates and ministers and to trample 
on all law and authority, human and divine. They would come 
on the Lord s Day into the most public assemblies, nearly or 
quite naked, and, in the time of public worship, behave in a 
wild and tumultuous manner, crying out and charging the 
most venerable ministers with lies and false doctrines. They 
would labor upon the Lord s Day, drive carts by places of 
public worship and from town to town, apparently on purpose 
to disturb Christians and Christian assemblies. They seem to 
take pains to violate the law in the presence of officers that 
they might be complained of, and have an opportunity to 
insult the laws, the courts and all civil authority. 

There may be some exaggeration in Dr. Trumbull s account, 
but John Rogers was truly a "shaker," and he stands out because he 
so rattled the unity of worship in his native New London. The 
Rogerses were an old family in the town and well-respected; it came 
as a thunderbolt in the 1670s when John Rogers joined the Seventh 
Day Baptists, later joining the Quakers, and finally starting his own 

John Rogers preached in the streets and certainly sought to 

10 Rogers, John 

disturb public worship with which he disagreed. From 1676 on, 
Rogers was arraigned at every session of the local court. He was 
fined and imprisoned, usually for blasphemy, but once he was im 
plicated in the burning of the New London meeting house. To the 
good Congregationalist minds of New London, his most irritating 
offense involved his sitting on the town gallows beneath a halter, 
for which he was jailed for blasphemy. Rogers spent roughly one- 
third of his life, after he converted, in jail for the practice of his 

None of these punishments and fines, not the stocks, not tar 
and feathers, not even jail terms would stop Rogers and the Roger- 
enes who, over the years, grew in numbers, clearly in reaction to 
the closed New England mind. Whenever Rogers was hauled into 
court, he insulted officials; and his followers, as one historian put 
it, "tuned their pipes and screamed, roared, shouted and stamped." 
His wife finally had enough of Rogers constant assault on the 
establishment. She was granted a divorce and custody of their two 
children. She later remarried and the children promptly deserted 
her, returning to Rogers and becoming two of his most devoted 
followers. Rogers for his part recognized neither the courts nor the 
marriage laws. He insisted he was still married to his ex-wife, and 
once he even tried to kidnap her from the bed of her most respect 
able second husband. 

Yet later he himself decided to take a new wife and did so 
without constraint, since it was Rogerene doctrine that spouses 
could be acquired and discarded without benefit of court or clergy. 
His new wife was Mary Ransford, a young indentured servant and 
one of his stoutest followers, capable of as bizarre actions as Rogers. 
She once poured scalding water from a second-floor window onto 
a constable seeking to collect certain fees. 

The couple s marital life proved very Rogerenian, marked by 
violent spats that required legal interference. Eventually the courts 
ruled that the couple had not been legally married and, under 
threat of forty stripes, Mary agreed to a separation, eventually mar 
rying someone else respectably. 

Rogers cared little. He had many jousts to partake and contin 
ued the violent practice of his religion. Almost as strong as his 
antipathy toward Congregationalists was Rogers distrust of medi 
cines, which he taught his flock to forego. Rogers regarded himself 
to be immune to all diseases and frequently exposed Mmself to sick 
persons to prove his point. In 1721 he insisted on going to Boston 
while the city was in the midst of a smallpox epidemic. He sat beside 
the afflicted and announced he was safe from the disease. He went 

Cornbury, Edward Hyde 1 1 

home and a few days later died of smallpox. Within a few days his 
daughter-in-law and grandson met the same fate, having been ex 
posed to Rogers. 

As late as the 1830s the Rogerenes were still a hefty force in 
New London, Groton, and the vicinity, and they still bore an antip 
athy to all other denominations. When a new church was being built 
in New London, the Rogerenes allowed none of their number to 
work on the construction. 

Cornbury, Edward Hyde (1661-1723) 

In 1702 Queen Anne of England faced a serious problem concern 
ing what to do with a wastrel spendthrift cousin, Edward Hyde 
Cornbury, the grandson of the famed first earl of Clarendon, who 
was the so-called Greatest of the Royalists. Unlike his ancestor, Lord 
Cornbury was a monumental eccentric who compounded his diffi 
culties by running up huge debts he could not pay. Queen Anne 
nonetheless had a fond feeling for her cousin and, to save him from 
debtors prison, she offered him the post of royal governor of the 
colonies of New York and New Jersey. It was a form of "transpor 
tation" that disgusted American colonists even more than the much 
condemned practice of shipping English criminals across the 

The leading Tory historian William Smith was later to concede, 
"We never had a governor so universally detested." 

Cornbury offended colonial sensibilities upon his arrival by 
announcing that he literally wanted to represent the queen; there 
upon, he went about town wearing the most elegant dresses, some 
the gifts of Her Majesty (but whether for Lord or Lady Cornbury 
was a matter of some speculation). 

Cornbury, in addition to flaunting his feminine finery in pub 
lic, had the annoying habit of sneaking up on unsuspecting gentle 
men and pulling their ears. Once, when scheduled to make a 
political address, he proceeded to irritate the assembly by delivering 

12 Cornbury, Edward Hyde 

Dressing in women s clothing was but one of the eccentricities New York colonists found 
galling in their Royal Governor, Edward Hyde Cornbury. 

an ode dedicated to his wife s ears. He then invited the gentlemen 
present to feel the delightful contours of his wife s ears. 

Besides his taste for female dress, Cornbury developed other 
unpopular habits. He was soon known to the colonists as, among 
the more genteel terms, a spendthrift, grafter, bigot, and drunken, 
vain fool He appears never to have turned down any bribe offered, 
especially from the aristocratic faction in New York, and when he 
obtained a grant for raising armed units, he promptly embezzled a 
huge portion of the funds for his personal use. He wined and dined 

Bowers, Bathsheba 13 

in luxurious style at home, and the bills for his foods, drink, and 
finery were staggering. Despite all the dipping into the public till, 
Cornbury s debts mounted, but he remained legally untouchable 
because of his official position. 

Finally, after being deluged by colonial petitions against this 
"peculiar, detestable maggot," Queen Anne was forced to recall 
him. However, as soon as the official decree reached New York, in 
effect stripping him of his immunity, irate creditors had him flung 
into prison. He might well have rotted there but for the fact that 
his father had died, making him the third earl of Clarendon, thus 
once more immune from prosecution. Leaving his creditors pow 
erless to act, he blithely returned to England, where the queen saw 
to it that he was able to continue a political career under her aegis, 
despite all the obvious peculiarities of his character. 

Bowers, BaUhsheba (1671-1718) 


One observer of odd personalities, Richardson Wright, noted many 
years ago that the difference between the male and female of the 
species is rather pronounced when they are tainted by a sad affair 
of the heart. Women, he observed, tended to "grow tight-lipped 
and acidulous." Men, he added, "become unconscionable rakes or 
dour penny-pinching grouches." Quite a few female crossed lovers, 
it seems, do turn recluse or take to religion for consolation. Bath 
sheba Bowers did both. 

Bathsheba s grandmother was the niece of Henry Dunster, the 
first president of Harvard. Bathsheba s father was a Quaker, a fact 
that caused his eviction from England. Settling in New England, he 
often ran afoul of the Puritan code. Still, he was a plucky sort and, 
despite intolerance, managed to maintain a farm of 20 acres near 
Boston, raising 12 children in reasonable comfort. 

At that time, the late 1600s, Philadelphia was much more a 
haven for the Friends, so Father Bowers shipped off four of his 
daughters, including Bathsheba, to live there. By the age of 18 

14 Bowers, Bathsheba 

Bathsheba had obtained numerous admirers and, common to the 
affairs of maidenhood, also suffered the sadness of an undepend- 
able lover. Thus she had a broken heart to nurse. 

Living on her own, Bathsheba maintained a beautiful home 
and garden in what is now South Second Street, but she also built a 
small cottage out a bit further, under Society Hill. She began to 
spend more and more time in the simple cottage, furnished with 
books, a table, a hard bed, and a cup. The place became known as 
Bathsheba s Bower and, as a descendant s account reads, "she re 
tired herself as free from Society as if she had lived in a cave 
underground, or on the top of a high mountain." 

Bathsheba read her Bible, and contemplated and wrote of re 
ligious matters. She lived an ascetic life, eating neither meat nor 
fish. In 1709 she wrote a pamphlet about her own religious expe 
riences, entitled "An Alarm Sounded to prepare the Inhabitants of 
the World to meet the Lord in the way of His Judgement." This 
brought her considerable fame. From the balcony of her bower 
George Whiiefield, the noted revivalist, once preached to a large 

But Bathsheba generally preferred being very much alone. She 
wrote a history of her life her advice to young girls who suffered 
defeat in love was for them to develop green thumbs and garden 
their troubles away which she distributed without charge. She also 
kept a remarkable diary and several manuscript books filled with 
visions and dreams, "and a thousand romantic notions of her seeing 
various beasts and bulls in the heavens." 

Bathsheba, one would have thought, had found solace and bliss 
in her retirement, yet after two decades she suddenly left her 
bower. She moved out further in the country, to be more alone, and 
then she up and left Pennsylvania entirely for a backwoods settle 
ment in South Carolina. 

It was an area beset with problems: wild animals, ravaging 
diseases, attacking Indians. However Bathsheba was happy and 
very involved in the affairs of the colony. Then a harsh plague hit 
and, while Bathsheba was abed with fever, the Indians attacked. In 
a cottage next to hers several persons were killed before the Indians 
were driven off for a short time. 

Bathsheba, despite the pleas of friends, refused to rise from 
her bed, insisting Providence would protect her. Thus the woman 
who had for so long deserted her fellows now refused to give up 
her place with a community of humans. Finally, two men, ignoring 
her protests, lifted her, bed and all, and carried her away to a boat 
for safety, all amid a hail of Indian bullets and arrows. It was a 

Lay, Benjamin 15 

dramatic scene long celebrated in American literature. More than 
two centuries later it was vividly portrayed in more than one Holly 
wood film, including Drums Along the Mohawk. 

Shortly after the excitement of Bathsheba s grand escape, she 
died in 1718. 

Lay, Benjamin (a 1681-1759) 


Men go underground for many reasons fear, penitence, disgust 
with humanity. But Benjamin Lay was a troglodyte cut from differ 
ent cloth. He went to his cave as a protest, but he was of too fiery a 
temperament to bury himself there; instead he would charge forth 
constantly on various crusades. He was a little man, barely four feet 
six inches, and capable of acting in the most eccentric manner, 
without grace and obstinately. There are many Quaker families 
today who own heirloom portraits of Lay; for fifty years after his 
death few Quaker households were not so graced. 

Lay was, in the words of John Greenleaf Whittier, "the irre 
pressible prophet who troubled the Israel of slave-holding Quaker 
ism, clinging like a rough chestnut-burr to the skirts of its 
respectability and settling like a pertinacious gad-fly on the sore 
places of its conscience." 

Born in Colchester, England, to Quaker parents about 1681, 
Lay went to sea in his early twenties. After seven years, he quit the 
sailor s life, after being shamed by the behavior he witnessed. Set 
tling in London, he took a wife, Sarah, a quiet woman who must 
have found her 25 years with him a tribulation. But she followed 
him loyally, starting when he decided to leave London twice he 
had been expelled from Friends Meetings for his fiery tempera 
ment, and twice he ventured to the courts of both George I and 
George II to tell them the errors of their ways. 

The Lays emigrated to Barbados, where Lay became a mer 
chant. However, he was depressed by the overwhelming presence 
of slavery, and on the Sabbath hundreds of slaves gathered before 

16 Lay, Benjamin 

Benjamin Lay, the fiery crusader, lived in a cave home outside Philadelphia. He settled 
here with his wife to live as a gnome, secluded from the evils of slavery and barbarianism. 

the Lay cottage to hear this flamboyant little man denounce 
the system that exploited them. Not surprisingly, the planters 
did not think highly of Lay and so, within a year, they went on to 

But Benjamin Lay was shocked to find slavery rampant there 
as well, and in disgust he moved to the countryside, where he would 
be less offended by mankind s wickedness. He had become a vege 
tarian in Barbados, after witnessing the slaughter of so many ani 
mals, and vowed for the rest of his life to eat no food and wear no 
article of apparel that involved the killing of any animal. Since he 
resolved never to utilize the work of slave labor, he wore only clothes 
that he made himself. 

His vegetarianism struck meat-eating Philadelphians as odd, 
while his constant antislavery preachments led to embarrassment 
for those who tried to befriend him. While it was true that the 
Gerrrlantown Mennonite Friends had written against slavery since 
1688, Lay became the first active public declaimer against slavehold- 
ing. As a protest, he moved himself and his wife into a country cave 
which, although still furnished like a house within, left him buried 
away from the sins of humanity. 

This, however, did not mean that Lay could not issue forth to 

Lay, Benjamin 17 

joust with evil. He harangued the Friends at their meetings, and 
when he could not get universal condemnation of slavery, he took 
more direct action. Once he stood in deep snow outside the Abing- 
ton Meeting with his right leg bare. When others remonstrated with 
him, he said, "You pretend compassion for me, but you do not feel 
for the poor slaves in your fields who go all winter half clad." 

On another occasion, at the Friends Meeting in Burlington, 
New York, Lay showed up with a bladder filled with red berry juice 
concealed under his greatcoat. Midway through the meeting, Lay 
arose, railing against slavery and stabbing the bladder open, 
sprayed many of the congregation with symbolic blood. 

It became common practice for Friends to eject Lay from meet 
ings. Once he was forced out of the Market Street Meeting, and he 
immediately let himself fall in the gutter, remaining there until the 
meeting ended. Several Friends asked if he needed help, but he 
replied with indifference, "Let those who cast me here raise me up. 
It is their business, not mine." 

He once fasted for 2 1 days, slightly more than half the time he 
had planned, but he had weakened so much that he finally bowed 
to the pleas of his wife and friends, and took nourishment. Lay, 
despite his eccentricities, had many friends, among them Benjamin 
Franklin, who published tracts Lay wrote, although not without 
much tribulation and editorial conflicts. 

In 1741 Lay s own aching body and the sickly condition of his 
wife forced him to leave his cave, and the couple took up residency 
with friends in Abington. Sarah died the following year. The soli 
tary life did not still Lay s temperament. He continued to rail 
against slavery and tea drinking a practice almost as vile, he said. 
He spent his free time spinning, and he also made beehives, 
launching a detailed study of the social existence of those insects. 

He was in his late seventies when he slowed to near inactivity. 
He lay near death on February 3, 1759, when acquaintances 
brought him word that the Society of Friends had voted to put out 
of their meetings any who did not free their slaves. Lay sat up, 
shouted a hallelujah, and cried, "I can now die in peace." He did. 

In death, the little man of the erratic ways became endeared to 
the Friends. The most popular portrait of him that became a com 
mon possession in Quaker households shows him with his un- 
trimmed beard and white scraggly hair, standing before his cave, 
his finger upraised in protest. The caption of the portrait reads: 
"Benjamin Lay, Lived to the Age of 80, in the Latter Part of Which 
he Observed extreme Temperance in his Eating and Drinking, his 
Fondness for the Particularity in Dress and Customs at times Sub- 

1 8 Richardson, John 

jected him to the Ridicule of the Ignorant, but his Friends who 
were Intimate with him Thought him an Honest Religious man." 

Qichardson, John (c.1690-1738) 

It could be said that John Richardson earned the title of the Most 
Wanted Lover in Colonial America. Certainly many broadsides told 
of his depredations, warning females of all ages to beware of his 
roguish charms. Whether such warnings were wise is a matter of 
dispute. In any event John Richardson seldom had trouble with the 
ladies wherever he stayed. 

It is for the sexology texts to measure Richardson s romantic 
compulsions, ascribing to them possibly neurotic bases; but there 
can be no doubt that Richardson suffered from an incurable com 
pulsion, one that he vowed on numerous occasions to curb, a prom 
ise lost in the crackle of a skirt. 

Richardson s early forays are not recorded by his profilers, 
hence not much detail is known. We know he was born in New York 
and therein broke several maidens hearts. He was what was known 
as a "Maiden Lane Rogue." Maiden Lane was a small New York 
street just beyond Wall Street that earned its name because so many 
maidens lost their maidenheads there. Some of Richardson s more 
enthusiastic profilers of the 20th-century male-magazine stripe 
have attributed the naming of the street to his efforts, but historical 
accuracy requires it be noted that Maiden Lane was so called when 
Richardson was still in swaddling clothes. Still, the fact remains that 
Richardson was so practiced he could find his way along the lane in 
the pitch of night. 

The first offense specifically attributed to the great seducer 
concerned the daughter of a carpenter with whom Richardson 
found work. John had to flee the city. The carpenter stalked the 
streets after him, hammer in hand, looking for the young despoiler. 

In due course we discover Richardson at sea. As a sailor he 
landed in Amsterdam. There he found a Dutch seaman s wife 

Richardson, John 19 

whose husband was on an extended cruise. Richardson settled in 
until news arrived of the husband s imminent return, whereupon 
the American decamped with a considerable amount of the Dutch 
couple s savings. 

Richardson sailed to Boston where, with his substantial money 
hoard, he could retire to a county hamlet, living in the home of a 
farmer as a well-paying guest. From an Indian maid he acquired a 
large number of Indian handkerchiefs, for a payment that was not 
in the coin of the realm. And thereafter several farm girls were 
sporting Indian handkerchief mementos from Richardson. Rich 
ardson engaged in affairs with no more discretion than a cock-of- 
the-walk; soon he had managed to get a good half-dozen girls 
pregnant, including his landlord s daughter. 

Richardson decided to do the right thing and marry one of his 
lovers; it was, he felt, the least he could do. Not surprisingly, he 
chose as his intended the landlord s daughter since her dowry 
would be the most bountiful. However this decision did not sit well 
with his other ladies. They promptly had him arrested, agreeing to 
his release only upon his giving surety for the maintenance of his 
future brood. 

Richardson s marriage went forward upon his receipt of 300 
dowry from his bride s anxious father; in a short time John an 
nounced he had better go to New York to find work to meet all his 
outstanding obligations. Amazingly, his wife and father-in-law al 
lowed him to go, apparently believing his assurances that he was a 
moral man reborn who would make amends for all his sins. 

Richardson was of course aware that his amorous activities were 
getting him into constant trouble. He made a public avowal to the 
courts that he would change. In New York the incorrigible Richard 
son secured work and lodging with a Quaker shipbuilder, and the 
Quaker s wife gained a bed partner. Caught flagrante delicto, Rich 
ardson decamped for Philadelphia. He knew now he could never 
go back to Boston. 

In Philadelphia Richardson found lodgings with a handsome 
widow who had two teenage daughters. Soon all three were preg 
nant. Again limited to how much he could do right, lusty John 
offered to marry one of the daughters, and the widow apparently 
was so happy with at least a partial solution to the family dilemma 
that she agreed to a dowry of 100 and half her plate. 

Did Richardson see himself supporting three newborn babes? 
The more he thought about it, the more he thought not. He sold 
the plate and moved south. 

Wherever he went, the tribulations of young maidens and old 

20 Richardson, John 

maids increased. Tales of John Richardson grew, and he was contin 
ually on the move. We have testimony of the drinking companions 
of this rogue in South Carolina that his problem was that he simply 
did not know how to resist the amorous advances of women. 

He secured a berth as navigator on a vessel going from Caro 
lina to Jamaica. When it returned Richardson was ensconced where 
else but in the shipowner s home. There was the inevitable daughter 
and the inevitable lunar developments. Being his usual good-na 
tured self, John proposed marriage and the relieved father not only 
settled a dowry on him but provided his new son-in-law with a 


Richardson put to sea just in time to elude a warrant from up 
north. He was identified as the John Richardson. Here nature lent a 
hand, and in a storm Richardson lost his vessel. He was barely 
rescued and taken ashore in Barbados. Soon he was living well, 
informing the Barbadians that he was the son of a prominent man 
and would reward them for the kindnesses they showed him. It 
turned out that the women were even more kind than the men. But 
by now he was somewhere in his late forties, and the ravages of a 
long love life were taking their toll. Some women actually could resist 
his charms. 

Barbados was not so far removed from the American shore 
that Richardson would not eventually be identified, so he signed on 
to a British vessel as a common seaman. The ship was bound for 
Turkey and also on board was another adventurer named Richard 
Coyle. The men talked of gaining money, an enterprise that inter 
ested Richardson as much as his failing libido worried him. 

So it was that the Great Seducer passed on to a new activity, 
that of murder. He and Coyle conspired to kill the captain and 
dispose of the cargo. The deed was done but the plot was unsuc 
cessful, both men being apprehended. On January 25, 1738, Rich 
ardson and his accomplice were hanged on Execution Dock, 

When news of John Richardson s tragic end spread throughout 
the colonies, there were numerous cries of satisfaction but also, we 
are told, many wails of anguish. As one of Richardson s profilers of 
past years put it: "To this day, Richardson is also a fairly common 
family name up and down the Atlantic seacoast." 

Moody, Joseph 21 

Moody, Joseph (1700-1753) 

It was said that when the yound Reverend Joseph Moody succeeded 
his father as pastor of the Second Church in York, Maine, in 1732, 
the congregation was not a bit above quietly rejoicing. Reverend 
Samuel had been noted as one of the greatest "exhorters" in all 
New England and, after half a century of his damnation sermons, 
the parishioners were ready for almost anything else. Anything, it 
was to turn out, save Joseph Moody. 

After but two years in his pastorate, Reverend Joseph fell into 
a deep melancholy. No one could understand it, and in time he was 
to become more a burden to his flock than his father had ever 
been. The young pastor developed such a pronounced phobia that 
he suddenly desired that no one see his face, a most disconcerting 
quirk indeed for a man of the cloth. Moody took to walking 
through York with a fold of crepe knotted above the forehead, 
hanging down and covering all his facial features. He was quite a 
sight to see in church, preaching with his back to the congregation, 
turning only to give the benediction, and then of course he was 
covered with the crepe or a silk handkerchief. 

Not surprisingly, Moody s bizarre behavior, a permanent life 
style for his last two decades, did not induce an added measure of 
joy at weddings, .christenings and other celebrations. It got so that 
his flock avoided him on the road. To escape such slights he usually 
ventured abroad only at night and restricted much of his nocturnal 
prowlings to the area of the local graveyard, a beat that assured 
him an added degree of solitude. 

Eventually "Handkerchief Moody," as he became widely called, 
resigned his post, never offering an explanation for his odd behav 
ior; that secret was to be kept until his death. As he lay on his 
deathbed, a fellow minister afforded him spiritual comfort, and he 
relieved his soul to him. It developed that Moody had inadvertently 
shot a friend. The townspeople had laid the killing on a marauding 
Indian, never suspecting their minister. The torment of the shame 
he felt, and the fear of facing the scorn of his friend s family, forced 
silence on him. However, his feeling of guilt became so obsessive he 
finally vowed never to allow his face to be subjected to the open 
view of humanity. 

Just before Handkerchief Moody s body was committed to the 

22 Peters, Samuel Andrew 

ground, the clergyman lifted the cloth that covered his face, now 
forever safe from human censure. We are assured by one old ac 
count that it was "serene and majestic." 

Peters Samuel Andrew (1735-1826) 

It has been suggested that the Reverend Sam Peters, rector of 
Hebron, Connecticut, took an awful vengeance on the new nation 
of the United States of America for the fact that he was mistreated, 
even tarred and feathered, for his Tory sympathies during the Rev 
olution. He fled back to England and there went to work on his 
General History of Connecticut. The state is often said not to have 
lived down yet what the parson wrote. However, that theory of the 
origin of Reverend Peters wrath grants him more justification than 
he deserves. It would have been difficult in 18th-century America 
to find a more compulsive liar or teller of tall tales certainly one 
who was wearing the cloth than Peters. He told fantastic lies in 
several other books and had a reputation for extracting powerful if 
nonsensical meaning from biblical events for use in his sermons. 

Yet there is no doubt that his Connecticut "history" topped all 
his other efforts. To this day preposterous laws supposedly passed 
by Puritan lawmakers still are written of in popular histories as 
true; many such "laws" were in fact fabrications by Peters. Histori 
ans have found no traces of these ridiculous laws in records of that 
time; serious scholars now say there were no blue laws enjoining 
parents from kissing their children on the Sabbath, or restricting 
people from making mince pies or playing any musical instrument 
except the drum, trumpet, or Jew s harp. 

Nor did such an earthshaking event as a caterpillar invasion 
along the Connecticut River ever occur. With an unquivering quill, 
Peters reported that the thorny little insects were so numerous that 
they marched in a phalanx three miles wide and two miles long, 
and ate every bit of green for 100 miles. Peters described these 
prickly little monsters as being two inches long with red throats. 

Lee, Mother Ann 23 

Even more fearsome were the giant bullfrogs who marched through 
Windham in 1758 and virtually laid waste to the town with a feroc 
ity unmatched even by raiding Indians. 

Peters had a knack for mixing real events with improbable 
fantasies so that the former legitimized the latter, making the 
hodgepodge believable. His "histories" became bestsellers; he re 
turned to America in 1805 to enjoy for the remaining two decades 
of his life a comfortable existence on the royalties his hoaxes earned 
him. It was only after his death that scrupulous historians studied 
his works in detail. Then he was given the sobriquet in learned 
circles of the "lying Episcopalian parson." 

Lee, Mother Ann (1736-1784) 


The illiterate daughter of a Manchester, England, blacksmith, Ann 
Lee was to become a religious leader in America, dedicated to the 
proposition that she was the second (this time female) incarnation 
of Christ. 

At the age of 22 Ann joined a small pentecostal group known 
as Shaking Quakers or Shakers, a name deriving from their highly 
active or agitated physical method of public worship. In 1762 she 
married a Manchester blacksmith named Abraham Standerin and 
had four children, all of whom died in infancy. These sad events 
had a profound psychological effect on her, and when she was 
imprisoned in 1770 for "profanation of the sabbath," she started 
experiencing revelations and visions that were to lead to her being 
accepted by many Shakers as the prophetess of the group. Mother 
Ann or Ann the Word, as she was called, had a lot of words to say 
about many matters. On the subject of coitus she was rather opin 
ionated, describing it as "filthy gratification ... a covenant with 
death and an agreement with hell . . . the root of all depravity." She 
promised those who copulated severe treatment in the Afterlife, 
including being bound up and tortured genitally. It may be noted 
that by this time her husband had left her for another woman. 

24 Lee, Mother Ann 

Released from prison in 1772, she had a number of revelations 
that profoundly impressed her followers. In 1774, a vision in 
structed her to take her followers to America. Mother Ann and 
some of her disciples worked at washing and ironing in New York 
City, then purchased some property in what would later become 
Watervliet, near Albany, New York. The established rules called for 
communal ownership of property and the rigid practice of celibacy, 
which in due course could have had a profound influence on the 
growth of the community. Ann Lee passed the word that it was 
permissible to adopt orphans, thus solving the problem. 

In the meantime Mother Ann, who had become known as a 
faith healer, ventured into Massachusetts and Connecticut, recruit 
ing more followers. The movement continued to grow during the 
Revolutionary War, although Mother Ann spoke out against the 
conflict and ordered the Shakers neither to take oaths nor bear 
arms. For this, she and a number of her disciples were accused of 
treason and jailed in Albany for several months, without benefit of 
trial. Released in December 1780, Mother Ann went on with her 
work, including at times allegedly raising the dead back to life. 
Some of her disciples seemed to have a remarkable faculty for dying 
and, with the proper exhortations from Mother Ann at public gath 
erings, of miraculously reviving. 

Not surprisingly Mother Ann gained the reputation, among 
the faithful, of being immortal. It must have come as quite a shock 
to them when she suddenly died on September 8, 1784. Had she 
lived a fuller life, the American Shaker movement undoubtedly 
would have achieved greater acceptance. As it was, the Shakers 
continued as a thriving, if small, sect, having established 1 1 com 
munities in New York and New England by the 1790s. In the 19th 
century the Shakers spread into Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, and 
the movement reached its zenith in midcentury when there were 
some 6,000 adherents. 

But by the middle of the 20th century, Shakerism was nearing 
extinction; its adherents to the end held to the worship of a Father- 
Mother God, with Mother Ann as the female principle of Christ. If 
the female founder of American Shakerism was bizarre in some of 
her beliefs, the fact remains that she inspired what were by far the 
most successful, longest-lasting communal societies to appear in this 
country. The Shakers also developed handicrafting and furniture 
making that were famed for their quality and design. 

Perkins, Elisha 25 

Perkins, Elisha (1740-1799) 


The first medical quack in American history or at least the first to 
achieve a considerable following was Dr. Elisha Perkins, who be 
came obsessed with the idea that human ailments could be yanked 
literally from the body by the correct combination of metals acting 
in magnetic concert. He patented a device consisting of two three- 
inch-long rods. One rod was composed of an alloy of copper, zinc, 
and gold, and the other of silver, platinum, and iron. Exceedingly 
simple to use, the "Perkins Patented Metallic Tractor" simply had 
to be pulled downward over the sickly portion of the body, and the 
disease, presto, was pulled free. 

Virtually all experts on the subject agree that Elisha was a firm 
believer in his Tractor; he saw confirmation of its value in the many 
cases in which it seemed to help patients through what we now 
know was obviously the power of suggestion in psychosomatic ail 
ments. Among his more notable customers were George Washing 
ton, who had his entire family use it, and Chief Justice Oliver 

Elisha s son, Benjamin (Yale, class of 1794), made a huge 
amount of money selling the Tractors in England. In Copenhagen, 
1 2 medical men published a learned volume in defense of "Perkin- 
ism." Experts, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, said that Benja 
min was no fool, that he knew his father s obsession was medical 
humbuggery, but he nevertheless cashed in on the device. In 1796 
he published a book offering hundreds of enthusiastic testimonials 
from intelligent people, among them doctors, scholars, ministers, 
and members of Congress. 

How could such stirring tributes be countered by a mere med 
ical man who did some tests with phony tractors resembling the 
genuine item but actually nonmetallic in content? His results, of 
course, were equally "excellent." Holmes, first dean of the Harvard 
Medical School, could not help being somewhat amused by Perkin- 
isrn, often relating the tale of a woman who immediately lost the 
pains in her shoulder and arm when a fake tractor of wood was 
applied. "Bless me!" she exclaimed. "Why, who could have thought 
it, that them little things could pull the pain from one!" 

The younger Perkins lived to retire a very rich man in New 
York City, and Elisha Perkins went to his grave fully deluded that 

26 Burton, Mary 

his Tractor was a boon to mankind. In 1799 Elisha took his Tractor 
to New York City, which was then being ravaged by a yellow fever 
epidemic. He would, he said, put things right. Within four weeks, 
Elisha himself was dead of yellow fever. He was 59 years old. 

burton, Mary (c.1741) 


Mary Burton was an insignificant prostitute and thief well known 
for her lack of brainpower. However, she stands as an example of 
how an eccentric may be embraced by society when he or she ap 
peals to its basic needs. In 1741 fear swept the colony of New York 
that its blacks, both slave and free, planned to revolt and murder 
the whites in their beds. At the time Mary Burton (sometimes 
known as Margaret Kelly) was in jail; authorities began making 
inquiries about the supposed black plot. 

Eager to please her jailers, Burton quickly acknowledged that 
she had been in the company of several blacks while such discus 
sions were held. Although she was noted as "weak-brained," her 
testimony was eagerly seized on and, as she happily produced fur 
ther revelations, persecution of blacks ensued. In all, 71 blacks were 
transported out of the colony, 20 were hanged, and 14 were burned 
at the stake, a toll much greater in fact than had been taken during 
the Salem witchcraft hysteria. 

Mary Burton now walked the streets of New York as a heroine 
of great prestige, gaining in stature with each conviction. Soon Bur 
ton came to regard herself as a real lady with few equals, and she 
started making shocking accusations linking a number of the colo 
ny s leading citizens with the black conspiracy. While the testimony 
of a white eccentric might be more than sufficient to doom any 
black, it was another matter when concerning prestigious whites. 
Furthermore, the great dignity exhibited by many doomed blacks 
at their executions (much like that of the Salem victims) sparked 
additional doubts regarding Burton s babblings. She was cast out of 
decent society once again to finish her years with her imaginings 
not paid any attention. 

Cook, Tom 27 

Cook, Tom (1741-?) 


It may be safely said that New England was this country s most 
ferule and tolerant ground for eccentrics. While the Puritan tradi 
tion was harsh in its treatment of malefactors, real or imagined, 
there can be little dispute that New England, much as its namesake 
across the ocean, suffered its fools with notable restraint. 


But what if the oddball suffered from the villainy of near 
wholesomeness? What if he had the ethics of a real-life Robin 
Hood? Here was behavior to grate the Yankee conscience indeed, 
mischief carried beyond all acceptable bounds, evil deeds in com 
pact with the devil. 

Tom Cook, born in 1741 to a blacksmith family in Westbor- 
ough, Massachusetts, became known far and wide as a most incred 
ible thief. Scores of New England towns reported his 
transgressions, and since most records were kept by men of prop 
erty, his virtues, carried out with a compulsive nosethumbing of 
authority, were not noted in favorable terms. 

Tom called himself "the leveller." It is a matter of fact that he 
stole from the rich and well-to-do with flair and cunning, bestowing 
much of what he took on the poor and needy. Such traits are fine 
for a Robin Hood when it serves the political purpose of battling 
tyranny but, as a redistribution of wealth for mere altruistic pur 
poses, the behavior seems tinged with the most vicious rascality at 
least to the rich. 

That Tom so often absconded with a shank of meat from a 
wealthy farmer s kitchen and deposited it on the spit in a poor 
man s house made him a hero to one man but, just as equally, a 
rogue to the other. Also true was the fact that there was no universal 
approval of the leveller when a poor woman lay ill in bed, and Tom 
decided to find her the best feather comforter available. He 
sneaked into a wealthy farmer s house, tied one in a sheet, and then 
went downstairs and around to the front door. He asked the mis 
tress of the house if he could store the bundle with her for a few 
days, but the woman recognized him as the scourge of the area and 
slammed the door in his face. So Tom walked off with his prize 
with a clear conscience. 

Tom appropriated goods and grain and meal from carters 

28 Dexter, Timothy 

wagons and dispensed them to the needy, often before the drivers 
eyes. And he was always cheered by village children, for they knew 
he always had pockets stuffed with toys all stolen of course for 
them. The children s elders did not share the high regard for Tom s 
actions, fearing his example would send their offspring on the same 
evil road he traveled. 

Many wealthy farmers and businessmen found it better to pay 
him tribute, to guarantee exemption from his depredations; but 
vengeance finally came their way when he was caught roasting him 
self a stolen goose in an abandoned schoolhouse in Brookline. Con 
viction could have confined him to jail for some time; but his many 
victims, who flocked to his trial, wanted more immediate and direct 
punishment. Tom was offered the option of jail or to run through 
a gauntlet of teamster whips, a punishment that often resulted in 
maiming or death. 

Tom chose the gauntlet, and he was savagely lashed by men 
angered by a score of years of his misdeeds. Tom survived, but the 
record is not readily available to indicate if he ever strayed into the 
eccentric life of a Robin Hood again. On that day no doubt his 
victims felt that virtue, honesty, and, above all, sanity stood af 

Dexter, Timothy (1747^1806) 


A fool and his gold, we have long believed, are soon parted. In the 
case of Timothy Dexter, a Yankee trader of considerable renown, 
that sentiment was pure balderdash. He blundered his way into an 
ever-increasing fortune, much to the chagrin of his many detrac 
tors. And Dexter was no run-of-the-mill fool but rather the com 
plete idiot authoring one of the stupidest books ever written to 
prove the point. Semiliterate at best, he nevertheless dubbed him 
self "First in the East, First in the West and Greatest Philosopher of 
all the Known World." He unilaterally proclaimed himself to be a 

Dexter, Timothy 29 

lord, even offering the young American nation the opportunity to 
crown him king. 

Born in Maiden, Massachusetts, January 22, 1747, he had mea 
ger schooling. At the age of nine he was placed on a farm. At 16 he 
became an apprentice to a leather dresser, and in 1769 he set him 
self up in business in Newburyport, starting out with a capital in 
British coin worth about $8.20. The following year he made one of 
his shrewdest deals, marrying a well-to-do widow named Elizabeth 
Frothingham. Elizabeth in later years regretted her marriage, 
being appalled by her husband s many eccentricities, but Dexter did 
not. He used his wife s fortune well, although it hardly seemed so 
to her at the time. 

During and after the American Revolution, the Continental 
currency fell in value until it was considered practically worthless. 
The only money instruments considered more worthless were the 
various state bonds which, the general consensus was, would prob 
ably never be redeemed. As a result, they sold at a fraction of their 
face value. Dexter proceeded to buy up as many of these bonds as 
he could, and he became pretty much of a laughingstock. In 1791, 
however, Alexander Hamilton won his point that the debt of the 
United States, and those of the individual states comprising it, was 
"the price of liberty," and the bondholders were paid off in full 
Timothy Dexter, much to the chagrin of his Massachusetts compa- 

Lord Timothy Dexter, who blun 
dered from one fortune to another, 
was bufuddled when the newly freed 
colonies passed up his offer to 
become the new nation s king. 

30 Dexter, Timothy 

triots and, quite possibly, to his own surprise, overnight became a 
very rich man. 

It was perhaps a form of resentment that caused so many busi 
nessmen thereafter to seek to hoax him and hurt him financially. 
Thus, when he once asked some merchants what he should do with 
a few hundred loose dollars, they maliciously advised him to buy a 
cargo of warming pans and send them to the West Indies. Dexter 
took the advice. Truly it may be said that Providence sometimes 
shows its contempt of wealth, by giving it to fools; for Dexter found 
a ready market for the warming pans. The tops were used by the 
West Indies inhabitants for strainers, and the lower parts became 
dippers in the production of molasses. 

Later, other hoaxers suggested Dexter send Bibles and mittens 
to the same warm, "heathenish" climes. Both items arrived at the 
most opportune times, that of a burst of Christian interest and 
during the visit of ships bound for the Baltic Sea. Dexter sold his 
Bibles at more than double his costs, and an eager sea captain 
bought up the mittens for resale in frigid eastern Europe. 

With the proceeds of his West Indies trade, Dexter built a fine 
vessel. Informed by the carpenter that "wales," were needed, he 
asked a businessman what the carpenter had meant. "Why, whale 
bones, to be sure," came the reply from someone eager to impose 
on Dexter s stupidity. Dexter set about buying whalebones with a 
vengeance, and when Boston could not supply him with enough, 
he emptied the stores of Philadelphia and New York as well. The 
story became a standing joke among the ship-carpenters, until the 
good fortune that always seemed to smile on Dexter struck again. 
New fashions dictated that ladies wear stays lined with whalebone, 
and it turned out Dexter had a lock on the market. He once more 
raked in a fortune. 

Even when he violated the old adage warning against trans 
porting coals to Newcastle in England, Dexter triumphed finan 
cially. His shipment arrived in the midst of labor troubles that had 
closed the mines there. Desperate buyers paid premium prices for 
Dexter s coal. 

Was it any wonder then that Dexter thought it only reasonable 
that he make himself a lord and, indeed, seek the royal crown in 
America? Dexter affected regal pomp in his appearance and be 
havior, and once he even staged a mock burial for himself on a 
kingly scale. There were honorary pallbearers, a minister to pro 
nounce a fitting eulogy, and enough funeral meats and drinks to 
sate some 3,000 guests to the rites. When Dexter noticed his wife 

Dexter, Timothy 31 

was not into the spirit of the event and was shedding no tears, he 
proceeded to beat her in the presence of the mourners until she 
cried properly. 

About this time Dexter also decided to make his mark in the 
literary world and published his autobiography entitled A Pickle for 
the Knowing Ones, or Plain Truths in a Homespun Dress. Written with 
utter disregard for punctuation and with capital letters hurled 
about willy-nilly, the book expounded Dexter s philosophy of life. 
"I wants to make my Enemys grin in time Like a Cat over A hot 
pudding and goe away and hang there heads Down Like a Dogg 
bin After sleep" As to his financial well-being, he explained with 
colorful modesty; "I was very luckkey in spekkelation" 

Dexter expounded his theories on the nature of man, religion, 
and original sin, world politics, peace movements, college learning, 
and why he was so successful with the maidens. Almost anything 
that passed through his muddled mind went into his masterwork. 
Pickle went through four printings, not surprising since Dexter 
proudly gave copies away, and it had become a sort of word game 
to figure out what he had written. 

Dexter answered complaints about his lack of punctuation by 
appending to the second edition a full page of commas, periods, 
question marks, and exclamation points for his critics so "thay may 
peper and solt it as they plese." One of Dexter s 20th century pro 
filers, J. P. Marquand, has written, "Whether intentional or not, the 
Tickle is like Dexter s life, a huge and ill-formed jest." 

It may be difficult to fathom how it was noticed, but Dexter 
lapsed into senility in the last few years of his life, a condition aided 
along by his stupendous absorption of rum. Meanwhile, his writing, 
often using word combinations that no one understood, com 
mented on such major topics as politics, the cost of funerals, and 
whether angels were truly adorned with wings. 

It was almost a relief to all, friends and "Enemys" alike, when 
he passed from the living in his sixtieth year, in 1806. A long obit 
uary in the local paper called him "perhaps one of the most eccen 
tric men of his time. . . . His singularities and peculiar notions were 
universally proverbial." 

In his will, he left his hometown of Maiden three hundred 
dollars to buy a bell for the meeting house, plus another $2,000, 
the interest on which was to accumulate for 100 years and thereaf 
ter be used "for the support of the gospel." Dexter may have been 
as mad as a hatter, but he retained to the very end his knack for 
accumulating wealth. 

32 Anonymous 

Anonymous (early 18th century) 


Nudism did not shock colonial America as long as it was practiced 
by the Indians, who were of course "heathens." However, when the 
first white men publicly stripped down, the effect on the colonists 
conscience was one of bitter rage, and it often resulted in violence 
for such blasphemy. However, that does not appear to have been 
the case in what may have been the first instance of nudism on 
these shores. 

From whence or when the so-called hermit of the "dividing 
line" between Virginia and North Carolina came, we know not, only 
that he was there early in the 18th century a fearsome-looking, 
long-bearded beachcomber from whom all kept their distance. 
Most likely he was a marooned seaman who, having made it some 
how to this lonely coast, decided to go no further. By this time 
Defoe s Robinson Crusoe had gained wide circulation, and some of 
the inhabitants of the area tried to give their hermit a few of those 
romantic qualities. That was difficult to do; he appeared hostile, 
keeping intruders away not only by menacingly preparing to hurl 
rocks but by his lack of raiment. He generally went totally bare, 
protected in time only by a long beard. 

This behavior was enough to keep the natives at a distance, 
and we can only imagine the shock they sustained when this naked 
beachcomber somewhere, somehow found himself a mate, a 
woman who dressed as immodestly as himself. 

Our description of the pair comes from William Byrd, a New 
England surveyor who, in 1728, was engaged to mark the borders 
of the two colonies. Byrd may have been, if not our first gossip 
columnist, one of the merriest. He seems to have rejoiced telling of 
"A Marooner that modestly calls Himself a. Hermit, tho he be for 
feited that Name by Suffering a wanton Female to cohabit with 

What shocked, or at least impressed, Byrd was that this strange 
maroon seemed not to be afflicted with either ambition or con 
science, and he let a woman wait on him. "His Habitation was a 
Bower, cover d with Bark after the Indian Fashion which in this 
mild Situation protected him pretty well from the Weather. Like 
the Ravens, he neither plow d nor sow d, but Subsisted chiefly upon 
Oysters which his Handmaid made a Shift to gather from the ad- 

McQuain,John 33 

jacent Rocks. Sometimes, too, for a change of diet, he sent her to 
drive up the Neighbor s cows, to moisten their mouths with a little 


No one dare protest such an expropriation. Even the most 
property-conscious farmer seemed to have considered it wise to 
ignore the situation. Byrd seems to have been the most conscien 
tious observer of the pair, recording that this female at least had 
the decency to use the length of her hair as an apron "and the rest 
dangled behind quite down to her rump, like one of Herodotus 
East Indian Pygmies. Thus did these wretches live in a dirty State 
of Nature and were Adamites, innocence only excepted." 

Alas, we have no reliable record of what became of the naked 
hermit and his spouse, once observer Byrd departed the scene. 
Could they perhaps have one day entered clothed society? If so, 
they must have trekked far from the dividing line, to someplace 
where they would not have been recognized. Unfortunately solitar 
ies and recluses have never felt obliged to fill in the blanks in their 
record. Our wonderment seems to be no concern of theirs. 

McQuain, John (fl late 18th century} 


The word "mankind" is no favorite with present-day feminists, but 
in the 1770s, in the neighborhood of Waterford, Massachusetts, 
there thrived a hermit farmer who can only be described as a ded 
icated hater of womankind. John McQuain left Bolton and showed 
up in Waterford as a young man in his twenties. He clearly demon 
strated a dislike for women, shuffling away with downcast eyes when 
one approached him. What caused this strange but consistent re 
action, which clearly went beyond shyness an uncaring mother, an 
object of his affection who did not return his love? No one knew, 
but it soon became apparent to McQuain that he could not hope to 
avoid females in Waterford or anywhere else in civilization. And so 
he moved deeper into the forest, building a hut on a distant plot of 
land for $40. He owned no household furnishings other than a 

34 McQuain, John 

pail, a dish, and a spoon; all else he apparently held to be too 
feminine. His only companion was a dog male. 

For a number of years McQuain worked his land alone, clear 
ing away trees and sowing crops. As he prospered, he kept extend 
ing his holdings, until he had 800 acres and 40 head of cattle. As 
his work load increased, he brought in day laborers, men only. 
However, none of the workers would take care of the cows, since 
they considered that to be a dairymaid chore. But McQuain would 
have no maiden, spouse, spinster, or widow on his land, and was 
content simply to dump the milk as feed for his hogs. The hogs 
waxed enormously on this rich diet and fetched huge prices. 

Not once is it recorded that McQuain ever left his tract, al 
though he proved to be a generous host whenever male passersby 
visited him. Food and liquor issued forth in generous volumes, but 
whenever McQuain was invited to return the visit or come to town, 
he demurred, explaining the farm required his constant presence. 

If McQuain lost popularity with the women of Waterford, the 
townsmen and certain of the town fathers thought highly of him. 
His farm was so prosperous that he paid double the tax for any 
other landholding of like size. On several occasions, married men 
tried to imitate McQuain s success in deep-forest farming, taking 
their wives along. But all failed miserably. On the McQuain farm, 
cider and liquor flowed freely when McQuain learned of each fail 
ure, but he was never recorded as saying what he thought ac 
counted for the misadventures of the married men. 

With the passing years McQuain s history becomes lost, per 
haps because he became a pariah to some. He made his own way, 
with a lonely sort of dignity, but his was clearly not the way for all 

Phyle, Francis Adam Joseph 35 

Phyle, Francis Adam Joseph (9-1778) 

For almost 25 years in the 18th century, Mount Holly, New Jersey, 
hosted a penitential cave dweller about whom little was known. The 
local citizenry knew not his name, and he, speaking no more than 
a few words of English, provided them with none. Yet from the 
1750s perhaps 1755, but no one was sure when the hermit took 
up residence he was treated with general kindness and charity. 

In 1758, 21 -year-old Hannah Callender of Philadelphia 
recorded in her diary a trip through New Jersey, during which she 
"Went to see the Hermit in a wood this side of Mount Holly. He is 
a person thought to travel along from Canada or the Mississippi 
about ten years ago, living in the woods ever since, partly on the 
charity of the neighborhood, partly on the fruits of the earth. He 
talks no English and will give no account of himself." 

For the next 20 years the hermit resided in his cave on some 
land belonging to Joseph Burr. There is no record of Burr himself 
learning very much about his tenant, but this hardy farmer never 
allowed his farmhands to clear that portion of the land or disturb 
the hermit in any way. 

One who finally did get some facts out of him was Surgeon 
Albigence Waldo of Connecticut, who conversed with him in Latin 
and German, although he found the hermit also spoke Italian and 
Spanish. It later was learned that he spoke French as well By the 
time of his conversation with Surgeon Waldo, he had survived some 
20 years on wild berries, water, bread, and whatever other food 
neighbors brought him. 

The hermit s home was a cave that he had dug out under a 
large oak uprooted by a storm. So shallow that it just allowed him 
to sit up, it was covered over with boards and bark, to provide him 
with both blanket and roof. The cave was lined with old clothes and 
rags given him by neighbors. This provided him with his sole ad 
ditional source of warmth; he never lit or even approached a fire, 
regardless of how extreme the cold weather was. 

The hermit described his small cell as his "grave," informing 
Surgeon Waldo that God had ordered him in a dream to live in that 
fashion. He was a man of deep religious convictions. He had a 
number of Latin books as well as others, and each day he knelt 
before a certain tree to pray. He wore a crucifix around his neck; 

36 Phyle, Francis Adam Joseph 

he would kiss the hand of any visitor and then his crucifix. He 
accepted all gifts except money, but he seldom left his wooded area 
unless completely out of food, when he went begging from door to 
door. Whatever he was handed, he accepted with gratitude and 
blessed the giver. Only once was he subjected to any cruelty. That 
happened when he was still wearing a long beard, which he did up 
under his chin. A group of boys fell on him and cut it off. There 
after he kept his beard trimmed short. 

After Surgeon Waldo s visit, the hermit talked to others who 
could understand him. He explained that God had informed him 
that if he remained in such a penitential state until he was 80 he 
could come out purified and live in general society. 

With the outbreak of revolutionary fighting, the hermit was 
subjected to fierce firepower when an engagement took place in his 
area in 1777. The hermit simply remained underground as musket 
balls whistled above him. 

Neighbors were much relieved when they (bund he had sur 
vived the battle, but the hermit s days were numbered; he was not 
to reach the age of 80. On January 19, 1778, a neighbor trudged 
through the snow to bring him food, and he found the hermit 
prostrate and feverish. He refused the neighbor s offer to come to 
his home, however, and the following morning a number of neigh 
bors found the old man dead, crucifix in his hand. He was buried 
in the Friends burial ground at Mount Holly. 

Only after his death was the hermit identified. There was a 
welter of wrong accounts, some of which dubbed him Francis Fur- 
gler. Actually his name was Francis Adam Joseph Phyle. He had 
revealed this in 1756, through an interpreter, to Colonel Charles 
Read. Read, a member of the Supreme Court, had respected 
Phyle s desire to lose himself and his identity. 

In 1756, though, he had explained to the colonel that he d 
been born in Lucerne, Switzerland; he had joined the French Army 
and seen duty in Canada. After killing an opponent in a duel, he 
deserted the army and took to wandering in New York and New 
Jersey, searching for a place of penitence for his awful sin. A 102- 
page pamphlet entitled The Hermit Or an account of Francis Adam 
Joseph Phyle appeared in 1788. It proved so popular it went through 
a second printing. 

Wilkinson, Jemima 37 

Wilkinson, Jemima (1752?-1819) 

Jemima Wilkinson was born into a family of 12 children some time 
in the 1750s. Her parents were Quakers who had been expelled 
from the local meeting for refusing to use the "plain language." 
But even that inherited strain could hardly account for Jemima 
being such a difficult child and, as the saying went, "taking rebellion 
with her mother s milk." 

She was easily the beauty of the family, which apparently con 
vinced her she should do no housework and instead spend her time 
reading poetry or throwing tantrums. A traveling evangelist con 
verted her to religion, and she thereafter spent most of her waking 
hours reading the Bible and searching for spiritual peace. That 
search eventually led her to the arms of a British major who later 
"left her to fight Yankees but lost her address." 

In 1776, this sad experience and the fearful signs of war 
caused Jemima to suffer increasing ill health. She took to bed, and 
a doctor insisted he could do nothing for her, that her problems 
were of the brain. Jemima started having visions, which she re 
vealed to a trembling family. Finally, she fell into a trance and was 
pronounced dead. 

Her "corpse" was placed in a closed coffin and carried to 
church where, during the service, there was a loud banging on 
the coffin lid. The worshipers rushed to open it and up popped 

It was the sort of disquieting occurrence that could result in 
almost anything, and it certainly produced a metamorphosis in 
Jemima. The next day she herself preached a funeral sermon for 
the old Jemima. She had been up to Heaven during her brief de 
mise, she said; God had sent, her back to earth, as the reincarnation 
of Christ, to prepare the Chosen Few for the Second Coming, which 
would take place during her lifetime. 

Jemima took to the circuit, seeking converts. A tall, imposing 
woman, she often wore kilts, a broad hat, and her shirt buttons 
closed under her chin in the manner of male dress. She gained a 
fiercely loyal following in her native Rhode Island and Connecticut. 
She demanded of her growing congregation of "Universal Friends" 
a strict celibacy. 

Jemima took her campaign into Massachusetts and Pennsyl- 

38 Wilkinson, Jemima 

vania as well, and by 1790 she had established herself in a religious 
settlement with some 260 followers in the Finger Lakes region of 
western New York, near what is currently Dresden. On one occa 
sion, irritated by the comments of some skeptics, she announced 
she would demonstrate her divine power by walking on water as 
Jesus had done. A platform was built by her devoted followers on 
the shore of Seneca Lake, and they strewed white handkerchiefs 
for her to tread upon. 

Jemima arrived at the proper dramatic moment. Alighting 
from her handsome carriage, she strode to the platform, from 
which she delivered a stirring sermon. Then she dabbed her foot 
in the water and gazed directly at the assembled group and asked, 
"Do ye have faith? Do ye believe that I can do this thing?" 

"We believe!" the crowd chorused. 

"It is good," the prophetess announced. "If ye have faith ye 
need no other evidence," she said, and with that, she departed with 
a flourish, amidst wild applause. 

Jemima s followers built her an impressive house, a superior 
structure worthy of an aristocrat, with nine fireplaces. Her boudoir 
had the comforts and feminine amenities not usually supplied to a 
religious leader, and she demanded and got her meals, even if 
frugal, served her on the finest china and linen. 

The Due de Liancourt once described dining at Jemima s 
house. He told how she and her constant companion, Rachel Miller, 
dined privately in a separate room. After they had finished, the 
guests received their meal. Jemima then addressed the company 
through the open door. 

The community prospered over the years, and Jemima 
achieved peace with the local Indians who apparently regarded her 
as some sort of "witch doctor." 

Many of the Universal Friends practiced the celibacy required 
of them, but many ribald tales are told of Jemima, admittedly some 
by skeptics, of her less than total adherence to her own strictures. 
One concerns Mrs. William Potter, the wife of one of Jemima s 
wealthiest converts, apprehending her husband in the Wilkinson 
private quarters. She was rather unimpressed by Jemima s expla 
nation that she was merely ministering to one of her lambs. 

"Minister to your lambs all you want," she said, "but in the 
future leave my old ram alone." 

One explanation for Jemima s hold on her flock was the fact 
that she maintained her beauty to an extent not measured by the 
years. At 40 she looked no more than 30, and when she was in her 
sixties, few believed she was even near 50. Of course, she led a 

Bishop, Sarah 39 

pampered existence totally unlike the frontier harshness de 
manded of other women. 

Jemima died on July 1, 1819, and following her instructions, 
she was not buried; the devout awaited her second arising. No 
doubt Jemima herself was taking no chances on a premature burial. 
However, as her body started to decompose, the faith of many of 
the Universal Friends faltered. The ranks thinned but some re 
mained, sure that Jemima would eventually show up with an expla 
nation. The movement lasted another 55 years when the last true 
believer died. 

Bishop, &arah (c.1753-1810) 


It would be difficult indeed for the world to experience a war that 
did not suffer from predictable atrocities. For young girls the fate 
is an obvious one. For Sarah Bishop of Long Island, N.Y., about 27 
years old in the middle of the American Revolution, that suffering 
was to lead to her isolation from society, years later gaining for her 
the sobriquet of the "Atrocity Hermitess." 

In the argot of the time it was noted, "Her father s house was 
burnt by the British, and she was cruelly treated by a British offi 
cer." Sarah herself attested to that fact in later years, when she 
occasionally talked to strangers about why she took up the solitary 
life. The English, entranced as always by the acts of an eccentric, 
studied her case with deep interest; an early 19th century publica 
tion in that country explained her motivation for withdrawal from 
life by reporting that "she was often heard to say that she had no 
dread of any animal on earth but man." 

Dispossessed of home and virtue, Sarah Bishop left Long Is 
land and ended up trudging the hills around Ridgefield, Conn., 
finally taking her abode in a cave located in a perpendicular descent 
of rock just across from the New York state line. The country, which 
is still wild today, was even thicker then, and offered shelter for 
deer, bear, and foxes. Like Albert Large (q.v.), the Pennsylvania 

40 Bishop, Sarah 

"Wolf Man/ she feared no wild beasts and, according to a contem 
porary account, they "were so accustomed to see her, that they were 
not afraid of her presence." Indeed, they could count on her shar 
ing the remains of her rations. 

Ridgefield over the years got occasional glimpses of the her- 
mitess; she appeared in town once in a while to attend Sunday 
church services. Seldom did she speak a word to anyone, quickly 
returning to her solitary refuge. 

She had cleared a section of woods, a rich half-acre, and there 
cultivated all the provisions she required. She grew corn, cucum 
bers, potatoes, and beans. Peach trees and wild grapes abounded 
nearby, and close to her cave was a fine spring which she shared 
with the wild beasts. 

As she aged into her fifties, she was not a graceful sight. Her 
clothes were a mass of rags done up in patchwork, and her un 
combed gray hair fell around her face and below her shoulders. 
Her cave was not kept secret from the curious for long. The pres 
ence of strangers frightened her so that generally she retreated to 
her cave, barricading its opening with tree stumps she had removed 
from the land. At times, however, she could be coaxed to talk by 
those who gained her confidence. Some people even entered her 
cave, which consisted of a single room devoid of all furnishings. 
Her bed was made of rags on a rock ledge. She had no utensils but 
an old pewter basin and a gourd shell. Only in the stormiest and 
coldest of weather did she indulge herself with a fire; when the 
heavy snows hit, she hibernated for weeks at a time, surviving on 
vegetables, roots, nuts, and berries she had gathered in the woods. 

Visitors to her cave in 1804 were quoted in a Poughkeepsie, 
New York, newspaper as saying, "We conversed with her for some 
time, found her to be of sound mind, a religious turn of thought, 
and entirely happy in her situation; of this she has given repeated 
proofs by refusing to quit this dreary abode. She keeps a Bible with 
her, and says she takes much satisfaction, and spent much time in 
reading it." 

There is no evidence of anyone ever persecuting or harassing 
Sarah Bishop. Though it may be hard to prove, there seems to have 
been a greater tolerance of "touched" people in the early years of 
this nation. Her withdrawal from life may not have been approved 
of, but there existed a general attitude of letting "a body lead a 
body s own life." The Atrocity Hermitess was accepted for what she 
had been and what she becameright up until the time of her 
death in 1810. 

Rapp,JohannGeorg 41 

Qapp, Johann Geor (1757-1847) 

Born in Wiirttemberg, Germany, Johann Georg Rapp was a Lu 
theran minister who found that all the established churches of his 
day were, by his exacting standards, defective in their teachings and 
practice. He believed for example that God was both male and 
female, while Christ was without sex organs. Then too he insisted 
that the Second Corning of Christ was due in 1829, and that it was 
the duty of the churches to prepare the people for this great event. 

The authorities soon had had enough of his preachings and 
threw him in jail. In 1803 the flamboyant Rapp gathered up hun 
dreds of Wiirttemberg farmers and led them to the New World, 
where he said they could practice their beliefs. These included 
gathering a great fortune to present to the Lord upon His return; 
they would then enjoy the privilege of ruling with Him. 

They settled near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and christened 
their new home Harmony. Later Rapp led them further inland to 
Indiana, but in time he decided his flock labored and worshiped 
better in Pennsylvania; they subsequently returned to a new Har 
mony (later called Ambridge). 

Rapp s flock addressed him as Father; complete with robe, 
flowing beard, and shaggy hair, he looked as though he had just 
stepped out of the Bible. He firmly believed in keeping close tabs 
on his followers. He had a maze of tunnels, trapdoors, secret pas 
sages, and sliding walls constructed, which allowed him to pop into 
his church unexpectedly, shaking up the congregation. 

So great was his hold over these otherwise hardheaded farmers 
that his every command was obeyed without a murmur of dissent. 
All his claims were accepted as gospel. Rapp offered the faithful 
pictures of footprints in limestone rock and explained they be 
longed to the angel Gabriel who had brought Rapp his heavenly 

Rapp s most striking instructions concerned the matter of sex. 
He insisted that his followers suffer no distraction of the flesh, that 
they should practice celibacy. After all, since the community was 
involved in the creation of a fortune, it would find a lot of extra 
mouths to feed a needless burden. A visitor to New Harmony once 
wrote that the women seemed to have been deliberately "made as 

42 Bowles, William Augustus 

ugly as possible" in appearance, apparently to still potential roman 
tic fires in the men. 

Rapp never got along with his son John, and the rumor was 
that Father Rapp himself castrated John for his sexual sins. John 
Rapp was said to have died as a result of infection from this act. 
The Rappites denied this was the case and insisted John had died 
of a chest injury in a work accident. 

The Rappite community was totally self-sufficient, a fact at 
tested to by the presence of even such an establishment as the 
Golden Rule Distillery. The settlers also had a vinegar factory, a 
piggery, a soap-boiling house, a sawmill, and silk factories. They 
maintained a cutlery shop in Beaver Falls where 200 Chinese labor 
ers worked for them. The Rappites raised their own fruit and veg 
etables, and had community tailors and shoemakers who were 
responsible for keeping the members well clothed. 

Unlike other errant prophets of the approaching millennium, 
Father Rapp suffered no loss of face when Christ did not appear in 
1829. He simply announced that matters had been "postponed." 

By the time Rapp died in 1847, the community had close to 
$500,000 in gold and silver; over the next half decade, they invested 
heavily in oil, pipelines, and railroads. But by the turn of the cen 
tury, the Harmonists disbanded. No doubt this was partly due to 
the fact that Rapp s edict of celibacy left them with a lack of mem 
bers and likely leaders. 

Bowles, William Augustus (1763-1805) 


Was William Augustus Bowles a great American adventurer or a 
crank, a misfit or a spy? The matter has long been debated, but 
there is no doubt that his actions were bizarre enough to earn him 
the enmity at various times of all groups with whom he came in 

Born in 1763, the son of an English schoolmaster in Maryland, 
he so outraged his family by his erratic behavior that he thought it 

Bowles, William Augustus 43 

Some chiefs of the Southeastern Indian tribes found the lavishly plumed garb of misfit- 
gone-native William Augustus Bowles too flamboyant to match. 

best to run away at the age of 13. Going to Philadelphia, he man 
aged to get accepted into the British Army. Amazingly, he was soon 
awarded a commission and sent to the British post at Pensacola, 
Florida. Running true to form, he failed completely to carry out his 
military assignments and was dismissed from the service. 

This hardly fazed Bowles and, free spirit that he was, he went 
"native," living with the Creek Indians and taking a tribal maiden 
for his wife. The Indians regarded Bowles as a superior intellect, 
but this attitude would inevitably change. 

At the time, the Creeks as well as other Indians in the area 
became involved in the colonial struggles of Spain, France, and 
Great Britain. Bowles, probably because of his antipathy for the 
British Army, instigated attacks by the Creeks on settlers in Geor 
gia. Then, apparently tiring of this tack, he led the Indians in aid 
of the British after the Spanish had taken Pensacola in 1781. As a 
result, he was reinstated in the British Army. All this had occurred 
before he was 18 years old. 

After the British were ejected from the American colonies, 
Bowles became an actor of sorts in New York City, this position 

44 Bowles, William Augustus 

allowing him outlets for his frequent flashes of temper. Outwearing 
the tolerance of the New York acting profession, he decided to 
decamp with a troupe to the Bahamas; but he soon tired of this, 
turning up again in Georgia, where he rejoined the Creeks in the 

It is not clear whether his Indian wife accompanied him in his 
sojourns in the white man s world, but her presence among the 
Creeks did not help him very much there. The Indians, especially 
the great half-breed chieftain McGillivray, concluded that Bowles 
was rather softheaded, the same opinion drawn by his family, the 
British, and others. Perhaps what upset McGillivray most was 
Bowies penchant for wearing the lavishly plumed theatrical garb of 
his late profession. 

McGillivray finally drove him from the tribe, but Bowles re 
turned after the chieftain s death in 1793. He convinced the Creeks 
to make warring raids on the Spanish; later he had them again 
attack settlers in Georgia, Bowles himself, looking like an over 
dressed cock-of-the-walk, led the attack. In 1795 Bowles was cap 
tured by the Spanish and ended up in a far-off Manilan prison in 
the Philippines. When Bowles promised to resettle in Europe and 
behave himself, he was released , . . and he headed right back for 
Creek country. 

Over the next several years Bowles repeatedly demonstrated 
that his word was hardly his bond, breaking promises to everyone 
for, what seemed, the mere deviltry of it. All this time the suspicion 
wouldn t die that there was cunning behind Bowies madness, that 
he was in fact a secret agent in the service of the British, a charge 
that deeply grieved the British Foreign Ministry. 

In his last years Bowles strutted about calling himself "Ambas 
sador of the United Nations of Creeks and Cherokees," a claim that 
not all the aforementioned Indians accepted at this time. In 1804 
he was betrayed, quite likely by Indians, to the Spanish, who 
shipped him off to confinement in Morro Castle, Havana. He of 
fered to go straight to Europe, but his jailers seemed unimpressed. 

When the peripatetic misfit died in prison on December 23, 
1805, it was rather difficult to determine where the relief was most 
pronounced among the Americans, British, Spanish, or Indians. 

Robert the Hermit 45 

Robert the Hermit (c. 1769-1832) 

One of the most famous of New England s recluses, Robert the 
Hermit could tell a tale that had all the makings of a tragic epic. It 
explains why New Englanders referred to him as the "bitterest her 
mit in America." During the last 17 years of his life Robert was 
virtually devoid of any interest in humanity. Occasionally, when a 
person happened upon him, Robert looked through the passerby 
as he might a pane of glass. There was a rare exception, however. 
He made the acquaintance of a now-unknown author, which re 
sulted in a 36-page pamphlet telling his life story, explaining why 
he wanted no intercourse with his readers. 

He was a bitter man, having been buffeted by the fates; few 
who knew his story saw fit, during the hermit s last years, to chal 
lenge his right to his feelings. Indeed, concerned parents threat 
ened their young with strict punishment if they ever threw rocks at 
Robert s abode. Some New England abolitionists saw in his story 
the evils of slavery, which would not be as movingly portrayed again 
until the 1850s, with Eliza s sad plight in Uncle Tom s Cabin. 

The story of Robert the Hermit, who 
was known to New Englanders as the 
"bitterest hermit in America," was 
embraced by abolitionists to portray 
the evils of slavery. 


46 Robert the Hermit 

Robert was born in Princeton, New Jersey, around 1769 or 
1770. His mother was of African descent and in bondage, and his 
father was "a pure white, blooded Englishman," a man of consid 
erable eminence. His master moved to Georgetown, D.C., when 
Robert was four years old, after which time Robert knew no more 
of his mother. 

For a time in his early teens Robert was apprenticed to a shoe 
maker, but eventually he was returned to his master s estate, where 
he worked as a gardener until he was 20. By that time Robert had 
met Alley Pennington, a black freewoman, who agreed to marry 
him if he could gain his freedom. But his master had no interest in 
losing his investment in Robert without reward; finally the young 
bonded black got a supposed good friend, James Bevens, to lend 
him 50 so he could buy his freedom. 

Robert pledged to eventually pay off his bond, plus interest, 
through his labors, and he was able to marry Alley. Within three 
years the couple had two children and Robert had managed to pay 
off a large portion of his bond. However, he neglected to obtain 
receipts, considering Bevens an honest and true friend. 

Late one evening as Robert and his family sat at the dinner 
table, Bevens and another man descended on their cabin, seized 
Robert and hauled him in shackles to a schooner bound for 
Charleston. There Robert was sold into slavery once again. 

After a few weeks Robert escaped from his new owner and 
managed to smuggle himself aboard a sloop bound for Philadel 
phia. Doing without food and water, he made it to Philadelphia 
undiscovered. There he met a Quaker to whom he revealed his 
plight. The man gave him some money and promised to bring him 
more aid the following day. However, people in Robert s lodging 
suspected him of being an escaped slave and reported him. 

Robert was jailed and finally returned to his Charleston 
master. Deciding Robert was incorrigible, his owner had him auc 
tioned off again. This time Robert was bought by a Dr. Peter Fer- 
sue, for whom he labored eighteen months until escaping, this time 
by secreting himself in an empty cask on a Boston-bound vessel. 
After five days in hiding, hunger and thirst forced him from his 
hiding place. Fortunately, the captain was a Quaker who offered 
him food and drink and, on landing, turned him free on the docks. 

Robert dared not try to get back to the Washington area to his 
family for fear of being retaken. Instead he signed aboard a ship 
for India. When he returned, he shipped out a second time; for a 
total of nine years he was a deckhand on ships traveling all over the 

Robert the Hermit 47 

When on shore he generally stayed with a Salem woman who 
had three daughters. Despairing of ever seeing his wife and chil 
dren again, he finally married one of the girls. He rented a small 
house for his wife, her mother, and her sisters; he sailed off again, 
returning to find he was a father. 

After that he shipped out for China, a voyage that took 18 
months. This was too long a time for his young wife who refused to 
accept him back. 

Disconsolate, he moved out and took a berth with a shipping 
line operating out of New York. Nine more years passed a full 20 
since he had been ripped away from his beloved Alley and their 
two children. Finally, he shipped to Baltimore and then headed for 
Georgetown in search of his long-lost family. All he found were 
rumors that Alley had died of despair shortly after he was taken. 
The children, left alone and helpless, soon suffered the same fate 
as their mother. Bevens had long since gone West. 

Robert moved to Rhode Island, where he built a hut on the tip 
of Fox Point. "I then felt but little desire to live," Robert says. 
"There was nothing then remaining to attach me to this world 
and it was at that moment I formed a determination to retire from 
it, to become a recluse, and mingle thereafter as little as possible 
with human society." 

Later on, some rowdy youths forced him to seek out a yet more 
isolated hut near the Washington Bridge. Once a week or so he 
wandered into Providence for a few necessities and talk to one or 
two acquaintances. Most persons, however, he totally ignored. With 
the publication of Robert the Hermit s story in 1829 he aroused a 
good deal of sympathy, and parents took care that their young left 
him in peace. 

Still Robert the Hermit remained embittered with society and 
the fate it had saddled upon him. 

He died April 1, 1832. An obituary in the Providence Journal 

In Seekonk, yesterday morning, at his Hermitage, near 
Washington Bridge, Robert, generally known as Robert the 
Hermit, aged three score years and ten. He lived a solitary 
life, rejecting the society of man and communing alone with 
his God. Funeral this afternoon at one o clock, from his late 

The funeral was well attended. 

48 Randolph, John 

Randolph, John (1773-1833) 


It has become a matter of near folklore to depict members of Con 
gress, especially Southern ones, in past eras, in bizarre terms. In 
true life, the strangest of them all was Virginian John Randolph of 
Roanoke; he insisted upon this full appellation after he fought a 
duel of sorts with a kinsman also named John Randolph. John 
Randolph of Roanoke dubbed his relative Possum John Randolph, 
to indicate he only pretended to be an aristocrat. 

Randolph of Roanoke had a disease-ridden, liquor-soaked 
body and one of the strangest gnawing consciences. He was some 
times called "Viper John* because of the way he lashed out at his 
political enemies. On the political spectrum of today there is left, 
center, and right; far beyond that was John Randolph of Roanoke. 
He had a record of opposing almost all legislation. Flamingly 
aristocratic in outlook, he championed states rights with a pas 
sion possibly unmatched even by the fire-eating secessionists of a 
later day. 

He was well educated. In time he inherited the family estate, 
which was rather appropriately named Bizarre, in Prince Edwards 
County, and he settled down to life as a landed Virginia gentleman. 
He was catapulted on to the national political scene when the coun 
try was arguing the Alien and Sedition acts. The Virginia legisla 
ture denounced them. Patrick Henry backed the president s right 
to exclude foreigners without trial. Randolph opposed him. On the 
strength of that performance, Randolph was elected to Congress 
in 1798. 

He was six feet tall. The ravages of an adolescent illness left 
him the mere skeleton of a man. He was furthermore saddled with 
a voice that was high-pitched and flute-like. His opponents were to 
disparage him as "the flute-voiced sage of Roanoke," casting asper 
sions on his manhood. The same illness that had rendered him 
beardless had, according to some, caused him to be impotent 
as well. 

In 1803 Randolph fluttered political circles with his announce 
ment that he had fathered an illegitimate child. Since there had 
been not a whisper of this before, it seemed that he was merely 
fantasizing, trying to demonstrate his manliness. Still, he warned 
anyone casting aspersions on him or his babe where he or she was 

Randolph, John 49 

A contemporary silhouette shows 
John Randolph of Roanoke at his 
estate, appropriately named 
"Bizarre." He was elected to the 
House of Representatives, where his 
bibulous oratory intoxicated Con 
gress as never before or since. 


no one knew that they would meet him on the field of honor. It 
was no idle threat. Randolph was an expert duelist and answered 
thusly many who mocked him. 

In 1810, for no discernible reason, Randolph abandoned the 
comforts of Bizarre to live full time in Roanoke. Here, on an estate 
with hundreds of slaves, he lived in a log house in a dense woods. 
Some saw him as doing so to harken back to his roots, since Ran 
dolph traced his heritage back to Pocahontas. 

When he was sober and feeling well, Randolph could be a 
gentle, caring person, but many biographers questioned his sanity 
and saw it worsen with each passing year. Others insisted his prob 
lem was merely drink; still others blamed it on the consumption 
that racked his frail frame. Seldom did he have two consecutive 
days of robust health. Others insisted he was always just plain mad. 
Eccentric, morose, he had a private life marked by constant changes 
and queer decisions made when he was drunk and outbursts of 
generosity when he was sober. 

He often rode a horse until it was near death, and he punished 
slaves fiercely; not always physically abusive, he would nonetheless 
reduce them to tears by his savage tongue. Randolph often seemed 
to delight in upsetting others, especially preachers of the gospel. 
He once asked the Reverend Mr. Clayton to say grace at his table, 
and no sooner had the parson begun when Randolph interrupted 

50 Randolph, John 

him. "Stop, sir, if that is the way you are going to pray, go into the 
garden or garret." On another occasion he asked the parson s 
prayer, then halted him. "Stop, sir, if you pray after that manner 
God Almighty will damn us both." 

Randolph was never the average matron s idea of the ideal 
houseguest. He was fond of coming to visit with horses, dogs, and 
guns; wherever he stayed his canine pack came along and, as one 
account put it, "they were suffered to poke their noses into every 
thing and to go where they pleased from kitchen to parlor." 

For years Congress suffered his vicious oratory in silence, re 
garding his as an unbalanced mind that could become unpredict 
able at any moment. In 1826 Henry Clay became so incensed at 
Randolph s barbs that a duel ensued. Neither participant was hurt. 

Except during times of illness, Randolph s bibulous oratory 
continued to haunt Congress; his bony fingers, wagging head, and 
odd mannerisms gave an aura of unreality to congressional debate. 
Despite the claims of recent political commentators, such a strange 
style was never seen again. 

Some say Randolph lived out the last few years before his death 
in 1833 in total madness, but it was not so. On his deathbed he 
threw aside all past hatreds and ordered his slaves freed and pro 
vided for financially. However, the laws of Virginia were most strict 
about any subsequent provisions for freed slaves. They required 
that a declaration be made in the presence of a white witness, and 
that witness had to remain with him until the moment of death, to 
insure that there was no change of mind. John Randolph saw to the 
effective carrying out of that requirement by ordering his loyal slave 
John to bolt the door to his room and keep the doctor present until 
he expired. 

When Randolph took his time about dying, the doctor pro 
tested he had to call on other patients, but Randolph refused to let 
him leave until the doctor sent word to have a younger doctor and 
another friend replace him. When this was done, Randolph dis 
missed the doctor with a bony wave of the hand and said, "Very 
well, the young gentlemen will remain with me." 

Chapman, John 5 1 

Chapmaa John (cl7Z4-cl847) 

John Chapman stepped into legend as Johnny Appleseed when, in 
1797, he appeared on the Pennsylvania frontier burning with a 
benevolent monomania to plant apple orchards wherever he went. 
Since that time he has been extolled in story and verse; his tale has 
so intermingled fact with legend that it is often impossible to tell 
one from the other. Some have called him touched, others said 
saintly, but it no longer matters; he is one of America s greatest folk 

He was born somewhere near Springfield, Massachusetts, 
sometime between 1768 and 1775 (with most estimates holding to 
the last two years of that span). What set him off on his zeal to 
cover the land with apple trees? It has been said he showed a love 
for apples from the moment of birth. The midwife who was taking 
care of Johnny and his mother, according to one tale, insisted that 
when she picked him up, she carried him to a window where there 
was an apple tree blazing with blossoms. "You ll never believe the 
way he carried on," she said. "Why he humped and gurgled and 
stuck out his little white paws as if he wanted to pick all those 
blossoms! And he was only 40 minutes old, too!" 

Let us maintain our equilibrium and consider that story apoc 
ryphal. And what of another that as a child he cried incessantly 
in his crib until he was handed a branch of apple blossoms, where 
upon his squalls immediately turned to coos? In any case there is 
no doubt that Johnny did become mighty attached to apples. As to 
why he left New England in his twenties, we have it from some 
biographers that his motives like that of many another footloose 
wanderer or, for that matter, a hermit concerned a maiden in 
Clinton, Connecticut, who refused to marry him. Suffering, Chap 
man hit the road for his greater calling. Johnny lost a wife and 
folklore gained a legend, as he made his unique contribution to 
American pomology. 

Johnny did not exactly cut a suave figure. Small and wiry, he 
was a restless man with "long dark hair, a scanty beard that was 
never shaved, and keen black eyes that sparkled with a peculiar 
brightness." Winter and summer he usually went barefoot, but at 
times when it was extremely cold he wore whatever footwear he 

52 Chapman, John 

In this 19th century sketch of Johnny 
Appleseed, the artist probably ren 
dered him a bit too dapper. 


could find or fashion, such as rude sandals or perhaps a discarded 
boot on one foot and an old brogan or moccasin on the other. 

Latter-day artists usually picture him wearing overalls or dun 
garees, but his usual garb was not quite such high fashion, consist 
ing often of a coffee sack with holes cut for legs and arms. In lieu 
of a cap he wore a tin pan utilitarian certainly since he also cooked 
his food in it. 

After Pennsylvania, we meet our modest hero in the Territory 
of Ohio in 1801, with a horse load of apple seeds, which he planted 
in various places on and about the borders of Licking Creek. By 
1806 Johnny was a regular along the Ohio River, with two canoe 
loads of apple seeds lashed together. Everywhere he was accorded 
respect. After all, there was little reason to chase off a character 
offering to plant apple trees on your land. And Chapman now 
universally called Johnny Appleseed promised to return regularly 
to make sure to cultivate the trees springing from his seeds. After 
some years, whole orchards sprang up everywhere all along the 
shores of Lake Erie, French Creek, Walnut Creek, Elk Creek, along 

Chapman, John 53 

the Grand River, the Tuscarawas, the Mohican, the Muskingum, 
plus literally hundreds more lakes, creeks, and rivers. 

At times Johnny sold his seeds to settlers heading west, but 
very often they had no money for such extravagances, and so he 
gave them the seeds without charge. Many people were touched by 
the tender charity of this gentle man and tried to help him. He was 
welcome in virtually any cabin along the Ohio. Once during a frigid 
November he was traveling barefoot through the mud and snow in 
Ohio when a settler insisted on giving him a pair of shoes, declaring 
it was sinful for a human being to be "foot naked" in such weather. 
About a week later the settler ran across Johnny and found him 
without shoes. Understandably angry, he demanded to know what 
had become of them. John explained he had met up with a family, 
all barefoot, emigrating west, and since they seemed to have greater 
need for clothes than him, he had given them his shoes. 

The Indians too never bothered Johnny Appleseed. Some said 
it was because they never attacked a person they regarded as men 
tally afflicted, but it was just as likely that they held him in high 
esteem. Along with his seeds he carried Bibles, distributing them to 
settlers and Indians alike. Johnny was Swedenborgian in his reli 
gious inclinations, and the Indians seldom doubted his claims that 
he had frequent conversations with spirits and angels. (He ex 
plained he could not take a wife because he had been promised 
two angel spouses in the Hereafter if he abstained from matrimony 
on earth.) 

The Indians respect for him extended also to his fortitude for 
enduring pain. They were awed by his method for treating the cuts 
and sores resulting from his barefoot wanderings, watching with 
respect as he seared wounds with red-hot irons without whimpering 
in pain. Since Johnny was also a vegetarian, claiming he could not 
kill any living creature, he was further honored (if not emulated) 
by the Indians, who resented what they regarded as the wholesale 
slaughter of game by the settlers. 

During the War of 1812, when the white settlers were butch 
ered by Indians allied with the British, Johnny Appleseed was al 
lowed to continue his wanderings unmolested by the roving bands 
of hostiles who met him. On several occasions this impunity gave 
Johnny the opportunity to ride through the countryside warning 
the settlers of approaching danger. 

However such activities were all secondary to his spreading of 
apple seeds. Although he himself never went beyond Indiana, his 
seeds eventually spread much further. By 1838 it was estimated 

54 Dow, Lorenzo 

that the seeds he had planted himself had been growing into trees 
bearing fruit over an area of 100,000 square miles. Beyond that, he 
continually proselytized the virtues of the apple. Nothing pained 
him more than someone saying apples disagreed with them. "Ap 
ples," he lectured, "never, from the beginning of time disagreed 
with anybody. They were in all the great countries of the earth; 
they were in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon that were one of the 
Seven Wonders." And woe unto them who brought up the trouble 
in the Garden of Eden. 

"That s wrong!" Johnny cried. "I don t know who started that 
story, but he was a bad man. Look in the Good Book, and you ll see 
that all it says is, they ate of the fruit of the tree. Now that could 
be anything a peach, a plum, a persimmon, a lemon anything, 
in short, except an apple. Be sure the Lord wouldn t keep anyone 
from eating an apple. How many times is the apple spoken of in 
the Good Book in a favorable way? Eleven times, that s how many." 

We know how Johnny Appleseed died, but there is some dis 
pute as to the date, which may have been 1845 or 1847. After 
traveling some 20 miles one summer day, he entered the house of a 
settler in Allen County, Indiana. As usual, he was graciously wel 
comed. He did not eat with the family but accepted some bread and 
milk which he consumed sitting on the doorstep where he would 
watch the setting sun. Later, after offering the family his "news 
right fresh from heaven" by reading them the Beatitudes, he de 
clined special sleeping accommodations and stretched out on the 
bare floor. The next morning this gentle eccentric was dead. 

Dow, Lorenzo (1777-1834) 


The opening of the 19th century has been described as a period of 
renewed religious fervor, spawning as it did a whole army of ama 
teur John the Baptists who, self-ordained, ventured forth to spread 
their own form of piety. It was they who started the colorful Amer 
ican custom of the camp meeting, whereby an open field or a city 

Dow, Lorenzo 55 

street corner became pulpit enough to harangue a God-fearing 

Foremost among these was a horseback evangelist, Lorenzo 
Dow. A tall, almost fearsomely disheveled Connecticut Yankee, Dow 
was brought up frugally, with five brothers and sisters, by parents 
who had educated them all themselves, Dow said, "both in religion 
and common learning." Dow caught the exhorter bug when he was 
only 17, after being influenced by an itinerant preacher. He 
thought to attain the rights of ministry quickly but that being de 
nied him, he simply hit the preaching trail without any special 
sanction. His first preaching foray took him 4,000 miles over eight 
months, during which time he lectured as often as 15 times a week. 
Dow learned the backwoods evangelist art well. His typical method 
was to assemble his listeners in the local schoolhouse, push a table 
and his pulpit across the door, thus physically blocking any in 
tended exit by bored listeners. 

Actually few were bored. Dow ranted on at a hysterical pitch- 
Crazy Dow he came to be called and indeed people came as much 
to be entertained as to get the word of God. Dow had a lot of things 
going against him. He was uncouth of person and appearance (ac- 

By age 39, Lorenzi "Crazy" Dow had 
literally captivated congregations 
here and abroad. 

56 Dow, Lorenzo 

cording to many contemporary reports, he enjoyed no intimate 
contact with soap and water), and his voice was harsh and his ac 
tions stern. Eloquent he was not, but he demonstrated a kinship for 
vulgar life and readily adapted to such tastes, weaknesses, and prej 
udices. He had no trouble spellbinding audiences even in his youth 
ful days; he always appeared older than he was. 

The words flowed from him in a fiery torrent, a fact in his 
favor in an era when a preacher s mettle was determined by how 
long he could talk and how violent his gestures could be. What he 
said mattered rather less than his delivery. Dow told stories artfully, 
and he could clinch any ecclesiastical point with an anecdote, 
whether confirmed by Scripture or not. Dow realized many of his 
listeners were cut of the same cloth as himself, and for them an 
illustration counted far more than logic. He was above all depend 
able. He would pass through an area and either stand on a tree 
stump or post a sign, saying, "Crazy Dow will preach from this 
stump six months from today, at 2 o clock, P.M." He would too. 

In 1796 he became connected with the Methodist ministry but 
was suspended after only three months. He was reinstated two 
years later, despite the general opposition of church ministers. 
They had reason enough to oppose him. Look at the way Crazy 
Dow unsettled the minds of their flocks and "seduced" virtually 
their entire congregations. And so it may safely be said that Amer 
ican clergymen in general were not unhappy when Dow ven 
tured off to Ireland to preach against the wishes of his superiors, 

After 18 months of shaking up that country, Dow returned to 
the United States and invaded Georgia. He returned to New York 
and attracted large crowds in the hinterlands; he then trekked 
south again, his exhortations, threats of hell, and hope of paradise 
brought in many converts. He visited Indian tribes and became the 
first to preach a Protestant sermon in Alabama. He pushed north 
ward into the Carolinas (where he was convicted of libel), Tennes 
see, and Virginia. 

In 1804 Dow married, taking Peggy Hokomb as a bride on the 
firm understanding that she would not oppose his wanderings. The 
day after the wedding, Dow left for a swing to Mississippi. After 
that Peggy traveled with her husband, including a great sermon trip 
to England. He became known as the "eccentric cosmopolite." 
Peggy undoubtedly managed to miss a great many of his ranting 
sermons, but, as one profiler has stated, "her fidelity to him is at 
least worth a nomination for a martyr s crown." 

Peggy died in 1820, and three months later Crazy Dow mar- 

Wilbur, David 57 

ried Lucy Dolbeare of Montville, Connecticut. Thereafter, Dow, 
approaching 50, preached less often, instead becoming a compul 
sive pamphleteer. On his farm in Connecticut, he compounded 
medicines to cure biliousness, quarreled constantly with neighbors, 
railed on about Whigs, anti-Masons, Catholics, and even Method 
ists who, he said, were being tarred by popery. Sometimes things 
got so bad that Dow could not resist charging forth on the preach 
ing trail again. 

He died in 1834, but stories of his eccentricities kept his mem 
ory alive for decades. It was estimated that some 40,000 boys were 
named Lorenzo in honor of Crazy Dow, among them Lorenzo Dow 
(1825-1899), the famed inventor and businessman. 

Wilbur, David (1778?-1848) 


David Wilbur was a disturbing engima to the residents of Westerly, 
Rhode Island. Everyone agreed he was quite mad many called 
him the Wild Man and yet there was the feeling that he might be 
wiser than they thought, wiser perhaps than themselves. Such can 
be a discomforting feeling, one that might cause resentment and 
persecution of the madman in question, but nothing like that was 
experienced by Wilbur. He was tolerated. 

Wilbur was born in Westerly some time around 1778 and lived 
with his father until the latter s death, apparently about the time 
David was 20. After that Wilbur deserted the family home and 
Westerly, and he took to the forests, living almost completely on 
nature. He was virtually uneducated, and in time he developed a 
near universal fear of all humankind, adults and children. 

Sometimes he would be seen at night sitting near a road, study 
ing the stars in the sky. By day he watched the clouds and frequently 
held a wet finger in the air to check the winds. He was called by 
many "the Astronomer," and from a distance a passerby might call 
out a question about the coming weather. It was the only subject 
Wilbur ever answered, and his predictions were highly accurate, 

58 Symrnes, John Cleves 

presumably at least the equal of 20th-century weathermen. Weather 
forecasting was important to Rhode Island folk, farmers and sea 
farers, and Wilbur s knack made him an eccentric worth knowing. 

In the summer he lived chiefly on wild berries and fruits, and 
he slept in a swamp by the side of a large rock, using an old door 
as a sort of roof and a bunch of flax for a pillow. He stored up grain 
and nuts for the winter months, also eating roots and such game as 
he could trap. On rare occasions he took shelter in someone s shed 
or barn but almost never accepted invitations to enter a house. He 
preferred almost always to keep his distance from people, but he 
had further oddness to his behavior, which puzzled Rhode Island 
ers. It was evident whenever he was in an area, even though he was 
not seen. He had a singular penchant for scratching numbers and 
strange signs and figures on pumpkins in the field. What these 
markings indicated was never determined, although it appears that 
several residents tried to figure out Wilbur s "secret messages." 

Was it some meteorological intelligence? One may presume 
that, had Wilbur etched his designs on more lasting objects such as 
the rock and sandstone used by ancient humanity, a Wilbur cult 
today would exist, trying to fathom the mysteries of his communi 
cations long after his death in 1848. 

If, that is, communications they were. 

Perhaps Wilbur was telling us something about the forces of 
Nature. Then again he might have meant nothing at all. One of 
Wilbur s profilers, Richardson Wright, has ascribed to him the sage 
observation, "There is a joy in being mad that only madmen know." 

fymmes, Jok Cleves (1780-1829) 

In 1818 Captain John Cleves Symmes, U.S. Infantry retired, a hero 
in the War of 1812, issued an astonishing circular. Entitled "To All 
the World," it was especially distributed to all members of Congress 
and to scientists both in this country and Europe. Accompanying 

Symmes, John Cleves 59 

Although John Symmes managed to garner a few "practical" followers with his hollow 
earth theory most notably politicians of the John Quincy Adams administration his 
radical ideas were espoused primarily in lampoons and fiction. 

the circular was a medical report signed by eminent physicians at 
testing to Symmes sanity. Alas, it was not very convincing. 

Symmes said that after many years of study he had concluded 
that the earth was a hollow sphere whose interior was inhabited and 
could be penetrated through a large hole at the North Pole. He 
wrote, "I ask one hundred brave companions, well equipped, to 
start from Siberia in the fall season, with reindeer and sledges, on 
the ice of the frozen sea; I engage we find a warm and rich land, 
stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals, if not men, on reaching 
one degree northward of latitude 82." 

According to his theory, which was to be ridiculed as "Symmes 
hole," the earth was really a group of hollow, concentric spheres 
through which the sea flowed at both polar openings (4,000 miles 
in diameter at the North Pole and 6,000 miles at the South Pole); 
plant and animal life surely had to thrive in the concave interior as 
well as on the convex surface of the next sphere, Symmes theorized. 
His expedition, he said, would have no trouble at all sailing over a 
curved rim and down the inner side of the earth. 

60 Symmes, John Cleves 

Symmes appealed to all the nations of the planet to join in 
financing his expedition and he got not a single contribution. The 
more ridicule was heaped on him, the more determined Symmes 
became, and the more he developed "facts" to prove his theory. 
The twilight that lit the Arctic regions, he said, was caused by the 
sun s rays bouncing through the hollow earth from the South Pole. 

For a decade Symmes spanned the states, giving speeches in 
support of his theory and trying to raise funds; in time he gained 
a few supporters, including a Kentucky congressman who was later 
the U.S. vice president, Richard M.Johnson (q.v.). In 1822 Symmes 
petition for support for an expedition was quietly tabled, but the 
following year another try by Johnson to place "Old Glory on those 
interior planets" actually garnered 25 votes in the House, not nearly 
enough but it kept Symmes hopes alive. Indeed, a Symmes convert, 
John J. Reynolds, persuaded the secretaries of the Navy and Trea 
sury under President John Quincy Adams to prepare three vessels 
for a voyage to the inside of the earth. When Andrew Jackson took 
over in 1829, he summarily canceled the enterprise. 

By that same year Symmes health collapsed from the strain of 
his efforts, and he died in Hamilton, Ohio, where he made his 
home. A monument raised to him by his son, Americus Vespucius 
Symmes, bore a stone medal of his version of a hollow earth. 

Needless to say, Symmes bizarre theory, which challenged most 
of the standard teachings of science, including Newton s theory of 
gravity, was too good to die easily. Symmes leading convert, James 
McBride, championed the cause in a book entitled Symmes 1 Theory of 
Concentric Spheres, and Americus Symmes edited his father s col 
lected works in 1878. There is little doubt that Edgar Allan Poe 
leaned on Symmes theory for his unfinished Narrative of Arthur 
Gordon Pym and a short story, "Ms. Found in a Bottle." Jules Verne s 
Journey to the Center of the Earth is another likely fictional candidate 
indebted to Symmes. 

By the 20th century, Arctic and Antarctic explorers pretty 
much disposed of the hollow-earth theory. Holes of 4,000 and 6,000 
miles would be pretty hard to miss. Still, some hollow earthers 
remain to this day. Adolf Hitler was known to believe in the con 
cept. During World War II he insisted radar experts spying on the 
British submarine fleet use calculations based on the hollow-earth 
theory. That line of investigation led nowhere, but confirmed hol 
low earthers are convinced that Hitler and some of his closest aides 
escaped at the end of the war by submarine to a base under the 
icecap at the South Pole. 

Johnson, Richard M. 61 

Johnsoa Richard M. (1780-1850) 

It is a matter of custom in politics to describe the vice president of 
the United States as being "a heartbeat away from the presidency." 
In no case was that quite as terrifying a prospect as in the late 
1830s, when Richard M.Johnson served under Martin Van Buren. 
One can only wonder what history would have said had Richard 
Johnson been catapulted by fate into the highest office in the land. 

There were many who cautioned that Johnson would have 
been more logically consigned to a prison cell or a lunatic asylum 
than the White House. Johnson had long served as a congressman 
from Kentucky, and he was noted for his erratic behavior and weird 
ideas. When Captain John Cleves Symmes (q.v.) came along with his 
hollow-earth theory, Johnson became his prime advocate in Con 
gress, despite the crackpot nature of Symmes beliefs. But then 
crackpot beliefs and behavior were long a hallmark of Johnson s 

How then did Johnson rise to the level of vice president (some 
observers in fact credited him with putting the vice into the vice 
presidency)? Andrew Jackson had dictated the choice of Van Buren 
as his successor. He also decided that Johnson, a loyal Jacksonite, 
deserved second spot, especially because he was an authentic In 
dian fighter who often claimed credit for killing the feared Indian 
chief Tecurnseh. 

The sins and wild disclosures about present-day political Wash 
ington pale when compared to the doings of Johnson. He was 
known to have had sexual flings with the wives of at least four 
senators and congressmen, and the suspicion existed of at least 
three more. Johnson s casual attitude toward sex was again a life 
time affair. He d had a love affair with Julia Chinn, a handsome 
mulatto slave he had inherited from his father. Johnson established 
the woman in his home, a wife all but in name, and had two daugh 
ters, Adaline and Imogene, by her. 

To his credit, and to the chagrin of many southern members 
of the Democratic Party, Johnson raised them as if they were legal 
children, had them educated, and expected society to accept them 
as equals. Opponents railed that Johnson had a "connection with a 
jet-black, thick-lipped, odoriferous negro wench, by whom he has 

62 Johnson, Richard M. 

reared a family of children whom he had endeavoured to force 
upon society as equals." Both girls were light-skinned, and eventu 
ally they married white men and were accorded large tracts of their 
father s property as marriage gifts. 

Julia died in 1833 from cholera, and Johnson later took two 
other slaves as mistresses, but despite this and the advice of many 
of his closest aides, Jackson determined to put Johnson on the ticket 
with Van Buren. 

Such open miscegenation offended many southerners, but 
when Johnson just as openly declared open season on Washington 
wives, the protests reached epic proportions. Van Buren may well 
have suffered politically as much from Johnson s behavior as from 
the Panic of 1839. Then, with the nation wallowing in a depression, 
Johnson inexplicably announced he was taking an "extended 
leave" with pay while he went back to Kentucky to devote all his 
time to running a hotel and tavern he owned in the resort area of 
White Sulphur Spring. 

One guest who went to "Col Johnson s Watering establish 
ment" complained in a letter to a member of the Van Buren cabinet 
that the vice president "seems to enjoy the business of Tavern- 
Keeping . . . even giving his personal superintendance to the 
chicken and egg purchasing and water-melon selling department." 
The letter writer went on to complain that Johnson had also taken 
up with "a young Delilah of about the complection of Shakespeares 
swarthy Othello," who was to be the vice president s new "wife." 

By 1840 there were other complaints about Johnson, and some 
persons begged Jackson, still the dictator of his party, to get the 59- 
year-old "old gentleman" to change his slovenly and ill-kempt ap 
pearance, at least to wash a bit more often. Even Jackson reached 
the conclusion that Johnson would be a drag on the Democratic 

The outraged Democrats, who renominated Van Buren with 
out opposition, refused at their convention to renominate Johnson. 
Amazingly they left the vice presidential slot vacant. This did not 
deter Johnson from running as an independent. 

The fast-rising Whigs nominated the old Indian fighter Wil 
liam Henry Harrison for president, with John Tyler as vice presi 
dent. While the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" swept the 
nation, Johnson countered that while Harrison may well have de 
feated Tecumseh at the Tippecanoe River in 1811, it was Johnson 
who had actually killed the Indian chief in 1813 at the Battle of 
the Thames which probably was not the case. In any event John 
son coined his own slogan: 

Miller, William 63 

Rumpsey dumpsey, Rumpsey dumpsey, 
Colonel Johnson killed Tecumsey. 

That alone could have sunk the Democrats, and both Van 
Buren and Johnson were defeated. If Johnson was rejected by the 
nation s voters, he was not forgotten by those of his home state. In 
1841 he returned to Congress from his home district. In 1844 
Johnson actually went to the Democratic convention in Baltimore, 
seeking the presidency. Badly beaten, he retired to his estate in 
White Sulphur Spring. In 1850 Johnson was elected to the Ken 
tucky House of Representatives but did not serve. A Louisville 
newspaper informed its readers: "Col. R. M. Johnson is laboring 
under an attack of dementia, which renders him totally unfit for 
business." Johnson died shortly thereafter, of a paralytic stroke at 
the age of 70. 

Miller, William (1782-1849) 


In the Apocrypha, the end of the world was generally held to be 
predicted to occur in 1,000 years, with different theories as to what 
constituted a "y ear -" The Last Judgment was expected by many in 
999, but it did not happen. Since then, prophets of doom and 
Apocalypse have frequently if inaccurately predicted the end of the 
world. No man in America created more havoc predicting the Sec 
ond Coming of Christ than did a former atheist turned fire-and- 
brimstoner named William Miller. A New York farmer, Miller by 
diligent, if mysterious, biblical research in the Books of Daniel and 
Revelation determined the end of the world would occur on April 
3, 1843. 

The fanatical Miller had an overpowering personality and not 
only gathered a devoted cult around him but even convinced the 
New York Herald to take him seriously; it printed his prediction of 
the Great Fire that would envelop the earth. He was convinced that 
Napoleon had been visited on humanity as the Anti-Christ herald- 

64 Miller, William 

Latter-day Nostradamus William Miller tirelessly predicted dates for Armageddon four 
in all between April 1843 and October, 1844. Undaunted Millerites, though tired of 
waiting together for the fire-and-brimstone Judgment Day, still meet in smaller congre 
gations today. 

ing the onrushing Last Judgment. Miller arrived at his conclusion 
in 183 1 ; he found confirmation of his premise in a shower of shoot 
ing stars in 1833; a great comet, the brightest of the century, gave 
conclusive confirmation in March 1843. 

Miller published a fire-and-brimstone newspaper called The 
Midnight Cry and listed other omens of the impending fateful day. 
Supposedly, birds were falling dead in midflight, crosses were ap 
pearing in the sky, and strange rings were noticed around the sun. 
The Millerite believers soon totaled an estimated half million, and 
the Herald deserves honorable mention for the developing mania 
that led to bizarre and tragic consequences. Miller himself gave 
more than 300 sermons over the last fateful six months, leaving his 
audiences wailing. 

The Millerites concluded that the dead would pass through the 

Miller, William 65 

ordeal of "The End" to Heaven before those still alive. So some of 
the more fanatical members murdered relatives and committed sui 
cide before Judgment Day arrived. On the appointed day, thou 
sands of Millerites jammed the New England (the stronghold of the 
movement) hilltops. Some waited nude to meet their maker, while 
others wore white "ascension robes" sold by Miller. Cynics won 
dered if Miller had discovered some way to take his money with 
him; he was so concerned about raking in thousands of dollars 
prior to the great "Going Up." Miller had little patience for such 
criticism. He said he was merely doing God s work, providing the 
recommended attire for the devout to meet their Maker. 

Nothing much happened on April 3. In one valley in Vermont 
an eerie sound echoed across the land, and thousands of Millerites 
alternately prayed and screamed until it was discovered that the 
local village idiot was blowing a large horn. One true believer suf 
fered a broken arm when he tried to fly up to Heaven with the aid 
of turkey wings attached to his shoulders. 

What became known as the Great Disappointment set in 
among the Millerites, but their peerless leader was not too cha 
grined. He had, he said, suspected something was wrong with his 
figures. The real date was July 7, 1843. 

Amazingly, on that date there was a complete, enthusiastic re 
run of the big event. Ascension robes once more sold like hotcakes, 
farmers ignored their ready-to-be harvested crops, jobs were re 
signed, and whole herds of animals were butchered for bountiful 
last suppers. Whole families gathered in family graves to await the 

Again nothing happened. 

Miller insisted he d get it right yet and put off the big date to 
March 21, 1844. By this time quite a few folks had some doubts 
about the fanatical Miller, but he dismissed them as having been 
nonbelievers all along. Some believers who had previously waited 
in open coffins for the end thought it enough, this time, to sit atop 
gravestones. At the appointed hour a tremendous thunderstorm 
broke out and the Millerites danced for joy in ecstasy. This was 
really it! However as suddenly as the downpour started, it let up, 
leaving the Millerites spirits most dampened. 

Miller remained his unflappable self and came up with another 
likely date, October 22, 1844. His still-loyal followers once more 
trekked up the hilltops to await what this time had to be a sure 
thing. One farmer even dressed all his cows in ascension robes 
supplied by Miller because "it s a very long trip and the kids will 
want milk." 

66 Gates, Theophilus 

They missed out on the Millennium once more. By this time 
many Millerites had had enough, and the movement split into sev 
eral groups, of which the Seventh-Day Adventists are today the 
largest. Miller kept on preaching his version of the end of the world 
and insisted the time was soon. He lived until 1849 and, if ridiculed 
by some, he nevertheless lived out his days with a comfortable in 
come from sales of his ascension robes. 

Gates, Hieophilus (1787-1846) 


For some reason, the fathers of modern sexology are considered to 
be Krafft-Ebing, now generally discredited, and the still celebrated 
Havelock Ellis. No one seems to give much credit to Americans 
John Humphrey Noyes (q.v.) and Theophilus Gates; yet both these 
men sought much earlier, and perhaps in their own lascivious ways 
to bring joy to unhappily married women and their henpecked 
husbands. Perhaps it is that they clothed their teachings in religious 
mumbo jumbo that disqualifies them from consideration as impor 
tant early sexologists. But both men sought to liberate their follow 
ers from the rigid restraints of sexual attitudes and biases. And, 
after a fashion, they succeeded in their endeavors rather admirably. 

Of the two, Theophilus Gates proceeded with far more open 
ness and thumbing of the nose at convention. Noyes was to express 
his frustration over that, by accusing Theophilus of stealing his 
ideas. The dispute left the public most confused. As one profiler of 
the pair noted, "Plagiarism in free love was a new charge." 

Theophilus was born in Hartland, Connecticut, to a family rich 
in revolutionary fighters and enthusiastic churchmen. His father, 
however, suffered from mental imbalance, and the boy himself ex 
perienced a considerable number of visions and hallucinations. He 
began to "dread pleasures as an offense to God." 

Hardly an auspicious start for an advocate of free love, but 
Theophilus had to have his ideas born on the crucible of life. He 
achieved that by wandering through the South and undergoing 

Gates, Theophilus 67 

more religious experiences. In the end he engaged the Devil in a 
fierce battle in the woods of Virginia and, happily, he routed him. 
Theophilus made his way to the home of the nearest preacher and 
related his terrible torment. That Sunday Theophilus preached to 
the congregation and told how the angels had helped him in his 
ordeal with the Devil. 

It was the beginning of a long preaching career that would 
take many turns, not stopping until death itself stilled him. Some 
times he worked as an itinerant schoolteacher, but he often pub 
lished pamphlets on religion that sold quite well. It seemed the 
more Theophilus wrote on sexual matters, the better his tracts 
seemed to sell. And it is on such success that sexual apostles are 
born; thereafter there was no stopping Theophilus. 

By 1820, he was publishing a magazine called The Reformer, in 
Philadelphia; devoted to religious matters, it called for the repeal 
of various blue laws. Theophilus did well enough financially with 
the magazine for more than a decade, until higher printing costs 
did him in. He then joined another young up-and-coming apostle 
of free love, Noyes, who was putting out a magazine called 
The Perfectionist. Noyes 7 idea of perfection was a state of affairs 
where any man and any woman could copulate with whomever 
they wished. 

Theophilus agreed with that concept in general but not in 
detail, and he was soon back on his own, putting out an inflamma 
tory sheet called Battle-Axe and Weapons of War, taking the name 
from Jeremiah 51:6. The editorial viewpoint was that no wife 
should lack a loving husband, and no husband should lack a sex 
ually attentive wife. It was perhaps the first publication to give godly 
attributes to the orgasm. 

Gates sold his Battle-Axe on street corners, at five cents a copy, 
and Noyes promptly rushed out a new magazine, The Witness, to 
compete. He accused Theophilus of stealing his sexual thunder. 

Theophilus soon found he had a burgeoning sect on his hands. 
He stressed such ideas as that babies should not be brought into the 
world unless parents were eager and prepared to receive them; this 
idea of a planned parenthood would still meet violent opposition 
more than a half century later. He called also for the sharing of all 
worldly goods and loving feelings. His new movement was named 
"Onanism," but the name didn t catch on; the public preferred to 
call the followers Battle Axes, and its leader became known as 
Theophilus the Battle Axe. 

His first convert was one Hannah Williamson, who was, not 
surprisingly perhaps, a streetwalker, but one with what was de- 

68 Gates, Theophilus 

scribed as "aspiring piety." Hannah took to Theophilus erotic faith 
with alacrity. She certainly had no problem with the proposition 
that if a female Battle Axe determined that a gentleman Battle Axe 
was unhappily married, she could conveniently have a dream in 
which God would order her to go to that brother and declare she s 
just got the word. The pair might continue that arrangement for a 
day or two, a week, a month, or years. Hannah and her sister Lydia 
turned out to be dedicated practitioners of his procedure, so much 
so that they each regularly had to announce they were expecting 
another Christ to be born. 

Theophilus and the Williamson sisters established a commu 
nity near Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where the rules of this form of 
promiscuity could take place. He called his refuge Free Love Valley. 
The original contingent of Battle Axes numbered 45 and were to 
grow considerably, since the Dutch farmers of the area proved 
highly susceptible to the new sect s tenets. A former God-fearing 
farmer sat at his dinner table when a young female appeared and 
announced she was his new divinely selected mate. The farmer 
immediately shuttled his wife down to the end of the table and 
installed his new mate next to him. Presumably night arrangements 
followed a similar pattern. 

Authorities tried fining people for adultery, but they were deal 
ing with an epidemic of promiscuous sex. Theophilus was also a 
nudist and would have his male and female followers disrobe and 
march in a single line down the street of the community to a pool 
where they bathed together. 

Even when Theophilus overstepped himself and did some 
thing foolish for a true apostle his flock kept the faith. Once, he 
anticipated the Wright brothers and determined to fly. He fastened 
wings made out of light shingles to his arms and went soaring off a 
roof straight to the ground. He needed a month for his recovery. 
But the flock remained convinced Theophilus would fly sooner 
or later. 

Meanwhile, they had other matters to occupy their time. Scan 
dalous tales spread throughout the countryside about what sexual 
doings went on in the very aisles of the sect s church. 

There is no telling how big Free Love Valley might have become 
had Theophilus stayed around, but he died suddenly on October 
13, 1846. Within a year the Battle Axes started fading away. It took 
a powerful personality to hold together a movement built on such a 
facile expression of piety. 

It may be recorded that some Battle Axes hurried off 
for Oneida, New York, where at that very moment John Noyes, 

Palmer, Joseph 69 

Theophilus hot-blooded rival, was launching his own free-love 

Palmer, Joseph (1788-1875) 


The wearing of beards in America did not become popular until 
the middle of the 19th century, and one man who took to whiskers 
earlier, Joseph Palmer, became one of the most hated eccentrics of 
his day. As such, he was subjected to persecution so incredible that 
it boggles the mind. Palmer may well have been the first man in the 
nation to wear a beard, and it was no ordinary one; it reached the 
flowing proportions of a biblical patriarch s. 

When Palmer, a Massachusetts farmer, moved to the thriving 
city of Fitchburg in 1830, the protestations of the townsfolk were 
overwhelming for the next decade. Neighbors snubbed him, trades 
people either sneered at him or refused to serve him, women 
crossed the street when he approached, fearing an attack from such 
a "degenerate," and men and boys stoned him or hurled missiles 
through the window of his house. The local minister, Reverend 
George Trask, sermonized to his flock; "Let us join in prayers 
for the vain Mr. Palmer. He admires only his own reflection 
in the glass/ 

In the worst attack Palmer was subjected to, he was ambushed 
by four men armed with scissors and razor. They hurled him to the 
ground and attempted to forcibly shave him, but Palmer, a power 
fully built man, managed to work his arm free and pull out a 
pocketknife. He slashed away at his persecutors, cutting two of 
them in their legs and putting them all to flight. Palmer was ar 
rested on a charge of "unprovoked assault" and fined. He refused 
to pay and was clapped in jail in Worcester. 

Palmer s jailers urged other prisoners, dangling a promise of 
reduced sentences for them, to debeard Palmer, but the stubborn 
farmer proved strong enough to beat off all assaults; on two sepa 
rate occasions he decked his would-be barbers. Palmer s fate be- 

70 Graham, Sylvester 

came known to the press and soon such champions of individual 
rights as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, and Bronson Al- 
cott led protests against his imprisonment, citing a man s inalienable 
right to choose his own appearance. 

After a year Palmer had proved an embarrassment to the au 
thorities, and his jailers tried to set him free. Palmer refused to 
leave unless officials publicly acknowledged his right to a beard. 
Finally, the jailers picked him up in his chair and set him out in the 
street, barring him from access to his cell. 

Palmer went home, beard flowing in triumph. He lived until 
1875, long enough to see beards become commonplace in the 
1850s and Abraham Lincoln become the first of several presidents 
to sport whiskers. Palmer s gravestone is well preserved today in 
Evergreen Cemetery in Leominster, Massachusetts. The inscription 
on it well describes the irrationality not of Palmer but of his com 
munity as a whole. "Persecuted for wearing the beard." 

Graham, Sylvester (1794-1851) 


Today the graham cracker is a monumental tribute to one of Amer 
ica s most eccentric reformers, Presbyterian minister Sylvester Gra 
ham, who preached moderation in so many human pleasures. A 
confirmed opponent of the eating of meat, white bread, fats, spicy 
foods, and demon rum, as well condemning ejaculation among 
other things, Graham was a firm believer in bowel-movement reg 
ularity, hard mattresses, cheery dispositions at the dinner table, and 
bathing at least three times a week. 

So impassioned was Graham in all his crusades that he fired 
up both supporters and detractors, so much so that they fought 
pitched battles in many American cities. Graham himself was the 
object of lynching attempts on more than one occasion. As a young 
fire-and-brimstone sermonizer still in his twenties, Graham took to 
the lecture circuit around the country, warning of the evils of drink. 
He soon expanded his platform to include prescribing a special 

Graham, Sylvester 71 

In his crusade to curb the dietary excesses of Americans, Sylvester Graham stirred up not 
only the Graham cracker, but also the ire of America s bakers. 

vegetable diet to cure alcoholism, among other things. Fats and 
meats, he explained, produced unwholesome sexual desires, and 
such spices as mustard and catsup could bring on insanity. Besides, 
he added, a single pound of rice offered more nutrition than two 
and one-half pounds of the best meat, and three pounds of pota 
toes equalled two pounds of meat. 

However, the greatest eating sin of all, he insisted, was the 
consuming of white bread. He accused the bakers of America of 
adulterating their white bread with pipe clay, chalk, and plaster of 
Paris. He insisted that only the use of homemade unsifted whole 
wheat flour (which became known as graham bread) could purge 
the poisoned bodies of the American citizenry. Graham boarding 
houses sprang up in the 1830s in a number of eastern cities. There, 
his supporters munched on special whole-wheat wafers, the original 
graham cracker. 

Graham was driven off many a speaker s rostrum by bakers, 
butchers, and, it was said, many a husband who wanted their wives 
to continue serving them meat and white bread. But over the next 
two decades, Graham garnered many important supporters, in- 

72 Graham, Sylvester 

eluding James Russell Lowell, Amelia Jenks Bloomer, Joseph Smith 
(head of the Mormon Church), Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa 
May Alcott, author of Little Women), and newspaper publisher Hor 
ace Greeley. 

Graham s closest call came in 1847, when his charges against 
Boston bakers brought them into the streets in an angry demon 
stration. They surrounded the hotel where Graham was staying and 
finally broke through police lines, determined to string up their 
tormentor. The lynch mob, armed with several ropes, was finally 
routed by a contingent of loyal Grahamites who poured clouds of 
slaked lime out of upper-story hotel windows, putting the choking 
attackers to flight. 

Such events deterred Graham not the slightest, and he contin 
ued his attacks on white bread and meat, steadily increasing his 
diatribes against what he considered a dangerous side effect of 
poor diet sexual excess. Rich foods, overly spiced dishes, and the 
consumption of flesh led to ruinous sexual desires, he warned gog 
gle-eyed audiences. In his famous "A Lecture to Young Men on 
Chastity, Intended Also for the Serious Consideration of Parents 
and Guardians," he warned that couples who overdid sexual activi 
ties would be smitten with such minor ailments as "languor, lassi 
tude, muscular relaxation, general debility and heaviness, 
depression of spirits, loss of appetite, indigestion, faintness and 
sinking at the pit of the stomach, increased susceptibilities of the 
skin and lungs to all the atmospheric changes, feebleness of circu 
lation, chilliness, headache, melancholy." That was only the begin 
ning, he warned. After these trifles there followed "hypochondria, 
hysterics, feebleness of all the senses, impaired vision, loss of sight, 
weakness of the lungs, nervous cough, pulmonary consumption, 
disorders of the genital organs, spinal diseases, weakness of the 
brain, loss of memory, epilepsy, insanity, apoplexy, abortions, pre 
mature births, and extreme feebleness, morbid predispositions, and 
an early death of offspring." He undoubtedly caused endless soul- 
searching and torment in many a marital bedroom by his further 
claim that each ejaculation a man had shortened his life expectancy. 

Instead of all this, Graham strongly urged his listeners to fol 
low the moral road, which included a vegetarian diet and daily 
bowel movements in place of sexual excesses. While Graham may 
have been far afield on some of his "scientific" claims, it must be 
said that much of his advice later gained acceptance, including the 
virtues of whole wheat, exercise, moderate eating, and sleeping with 
an open window. Grahamism did not die with Graham in 1851. It 
later gained almost fanatical adherents, including John Harvey Kel- 

Lick, James 73 

logg, the breakfast cereal champion, and Thomas Edison. Only the 
most obstreperous anti-Grahamites ever seemed to make much of 
the fact that Graham himself lived only into his fifties. 

Lick, James (1796-1876) 


Few men have been as driven to seek a fortune as California pi 
oneer James Lick. His motive was vengeance. Having once achieved 
the status of millionaire (perhaps the first in California) he lost all 
interest in the trappings of comfort that went with the territory. 

Born in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, on August 25, 1796, 
Lick (in Pennsylvania Dutch, Liik) was enmeshed in a scandal at the 
age of 22: he had gotten the daughter of a wealthy flour-mill owner 
pregnant. Lick did what he considered the honorable thing; he 
offered to marry the girl. The mill owner was more chagrined at 
the thought of having a penniless son-in-law than of being the 
grandfather of a bastard. He is supposed to have arrogantly and 
brusquely dismissed the young man by declaring, "When you own 
a mill as large and as costly as mine, you can have my daughter s 
hand, but not before." 

Lick left Pennsylvania immediately, promising angrily that 
some day he would own a mill that would make "this one look like 
a pigsty"; this was taken in the area as little more than childish 
pique. But the young man proved to be a hardy enough entrepre 
neur. In South America over the years he became a wealthy piano 
maker, being successful in turn in Argentina, Chile, and Peru. In 
1848 Lick sold out all his holdings for the then kingly sum of 
$30,000 and headed for California. 

It was a move of classic good timing. He arrived in California 
in January 1849, and the discovery of gold did not become a matter 
of wide knowledge for several more months. In the meantime Lick 
bought up between $6,000 and $7,000 worth of San Francisco real 
estate. By the following year those land purchases had made him 
the richest man in the booming town. 

74 Lick, James 

While others sought gold, Lick stuck to land speculation, put 
off as he was by the hard work involved in being a prospector. He 
bought acre upon acre in the Santa Clara valley, and soon he had 
the most impressive estate in all of California. He became known as 
a millionaire eccentric, wearing tattered old clothes and living in a 
dilapidated wooden shack. His bed consisted of a mattress atop the 
gutted frame of an ancient grand piano. Despite his wealth, he 
drove about in an old wagon "held together by spit," according to 
one old account, searching for cattle, horse, and other animal 
bones, horns, and hoofs, which he buried in his farmlands to enrich 
the soil. In one of his more bizarre acts, he hired workmen to plant 
trees upside down, their roots facing skyward. To his neighbors, 
this was a sign that Lick had really passed into the world of the daft. 
To Lick, it was a way to test his new workers willingness to follow 
his orders without dispute. That was not a matter of small conse 
quence to him; he certainly had many daft orders to give. 

As outrageous as many of his acts were, Lick continued to gain 
in wealth because of the steady rise in land values. In 1871 the San 
Francisco Morning Call published what became famous as its "Mucho 
Dinero" list of the town s leading citizens. Lick s net worth was esti 
mated at $3 million, which was probably an understatement. By 
then, this miserly collector of funds was dispensing much money. 
He set up the Lick Trust to heap benefactions on the state. His 
funds were to assist the California Academy of Sciences and the 
Mechanics Institute Library. Perhaps his greatest memorial was to 
be the University of California s astronomical center atop Mount 
Hamilton, the Lick Observatory. He also built the Lick House, the 
most elegant hotel in San Francisco until it was eclipsed by the 
fabulous Palace Hotel. 

However, in his day he became much more famed for yet an 
other edifice, Lick s Folly. He built an elegant three-story redwood 
and brick flour mill on the Guadalupe River, As the name indicates, 
it was unlike any other flour mill in the world. Sacks of flour lay 
stacked in an interior of fine mahogany and Spanish cedar. The 
floors were done in hardwood parquet. It was not so much a mill 
or a warehouse, folks observed, as a palace. 

Lick had built this lavish monstrosity in the 1860s for only one 
reason to fulfill his youthful oath and make an autocratic father 
back in Pennsylvania see his error in rejecting Lick. Lick had pho 
tographs made of his grand mill and sent them back to the mill 
owner who had scorned him. Since he might not have been still 
living, Lick made sure others back in Lebanon County also got the 
proof. Having had his vengeance, Lick lost interest in the mill and, 

Johns, James 75 

by the end of the decade, he all but abandoned it. To some, the 
name Lick s Folly was most appropriate, but to the eccentric million 
aire it was money well spent. Lick died in 1876. In tribute to the 
good works his money did, rather than to his irrationalities, he was 
buried in the base of a giant telescope in the Lick Observatory. 

Johns, James (1797-1874) 


Today there are publishers who advertise for book manuscripts to 
publish. They reject nothing, finding anything submitted a near 
literary classic. The catch is that the writer must subsidize the print 
ing of the book. Such "vanity" publishers point with pride to the 
rare book that actually achieves some sales, and there will never be 
a dearth of eager authors to supply them with writings and cash. 

It is doubtful that James Johns of the Green Mountain country 
of Vermont would be among such eager writers. As far as Johns, 
the son of a Revolutionary War soldier, was concerned there was 
not a publisher or printer extant worthy of printing his noble words. 
Indeed, when he was 31, he published a little volume called Green 
Mountain Muse. It sold virtually nary a copy. Like other writers 
before him and many since, he blamed its failure on the publisher- 

Johns vowed he would thereafter have nothing to do with 
printers, who were only capable of diverting his journey to the peak 
of literary achievement. Fortunately he had other publishing meth 
ods at his disposal. Since 1810 he had published a newspaper, the 
Vermont Autograph and Remarker, which chronicled as a good gazette 
should the important happenings of the community of Hunting- 
tonweather, births, deaths, and accidents. Johns as he got older 
even showed a penchant for investigative journalism, railing about 
what he regarded to be instances of political corruption. How Johns 
had the time for much of this is a mystery, considering that he 
published his newspaper five times a week. 

It was a beautiful paper, with lettering far superior to what 

76 Johns, James 

that rascal of a printer had done on his book. To the casual viewer 
it seemed to offer a remarkably clean typeface. Only on closer 
inspection could it be discerned that the Autograph andRemarker was 
entirely hand lettered. It took Johns almost half a day to pen-print 
an entire copy, which he then posted in the center of town for the 
residents to read. Occasionally he printed out a second edition, for 
someone who wanted a souvenir copy of special importance to him. 
Johns kept up this amazing output for 63 years, stubbornly refusing 
ever to switch to a printing press, even though he finally compro 
mised with technology and obtained one for other reasons. 

While he occupied himself weekly on his paper he also wrote 
and pen-printed a forty-four page book, A brief sketch or outline of 
the History of the town of Huntington, Needless to say, demand ex 
ceeded supply. 

In 1857 Johns, wanting to expand his book production finally 
bought a printing press and issued broadside after broadside of 
poems. He also printed another 22-page pamphlet entitled A brief 
record of the various fatal accidents which have happened from the first 

Few writers out of mistrust of conventional publisher/printers have ever demonstrated 
the zeal or calligraphic skill of James Johns, who, in order to maintain complete control 
of his work, hand-lettered his own newspaper for five-day-a-week publication. 

McDowall, John 77 

settlement of the town of Huntington to the present time. Needless to say, 
it is the definitive work. 

Having made the break to the printing press, Johns was able to 
increase his production enormously, and thus he was able to issue 
such works as Green Mountain Tradition, Remarkable Circumstances, 
and The Book of Funny Anecdotes. 

Though he had bowed, to a limited extent, to Mr. Gutenberg s 
printing press, he continued to pen-print his major love, the Auto 
graph and Remarker. It may be noted that Johns never married; it 
would be difficult to envision any woman being content with a man 
whose hands were constantly inked, as penman Johns hands must 
have been. 

It was probably a small sacrifice for Johns to make. He was 
wedded to his art, his Green Mountains, and the doings of its 
people. He did not lay down his pen until August 1873, just eight 
months before his death. At least 500 of his writings, of varying 
lengths, remain preserved, and this sweet singer of the pen stands 
out, whatever his eccentricities, as one of the most prolific American 

McDowall, John (?-1838) 


The trouble with the Reverend John McDowall, to whom sex and 
vice in 19th-century New York became an obsession, was that no 
one, apparently not even the good parson himself, could decide if 
he was a reformer or a pornographer. In 1830 the elderly Mc 
Dowall descended on such vice areas as the Five Points and Paradise 
Square, announcing he intended to bring morality and the word of 
God to their corrupted denizens. The Reverend McDowall became 
the friend of prostitutes, pimps, sundry thieves, and other crimi 
nals. He entered whorehouses, ostensibly to lecture the inmates, 
but there were those of the scarlet profession who noted he had a 
way of chucking them under the chin that had little to do with 

78 McDowall,John 

Still, McDowall had a good record of getting women to leave 
the houses and enter one of his Magdalen Refuges. These refuges 
were established by his Female Benevolent Society, for which he 
enjoyed considerable success at raising money from reform-minded 
citizens. But the reverend would soon drench the ex-prostitutes 
with such a heavy portion of prayers and exhortations that almost 
all would shortly flee, returning to the comfortable depravity from 
whence they came. 

McDowall was nonetheless celebrated as the front-line fighter 
against evil, and he was invited to the best homes to lecture on the 
awful conditions he had found in the vice dens. He would insist that 
"modesty and purity forbid a minute detail." But as a matter of 
fact, if any of his listeners really wanted the lowdown, they had only 
to buy his McDowall s Journal. This forerunner of the United States 
later gutter and yellow press subscribed to the theory that readers 
not only wanted exposes and proper lamentation about depravity 
they also wanted all the terrible details. 

McDowall s Journal was one lamentation after another, and its 
amount of detail clearly bordered on the pornographic. A latter- 
day analyst might well see the good parson as an individual much 
obsessed, to the point of near-personal involvement, with the unsa 
vory behavior he uncovered. He was particularly upset titillated, 
according to his critics by the number of dusky island maidens 
whom he discovered being shuttled into New York to work as pros 

Many a solid citizen called for the suppression of the parson s 
publication as itself a corrupter of morals. McDowall was outraged, 
regarding his work as noble and vital. "There are 20,000 harlots 
loose in the city," he stormed. Among his detractors, he won for 
himself the sobriquet of the "Whorefinder General," after Matthew 
Hopkins, the infamous English pretended discoverer of witches 
and so-called "Witchfinder General" Cynics pointed out that if 
there were that many prostitutes in New York, and if they handled 
only three customers a day, it would mean that one out of every two 
adult males was patronizing a prostitute three times a week; this 
would be an enormous drain on the city s financial well-being, to 
say nothing of the impact on health services. 

Still, McDowall s Journal kept up a drumbeat of the parson s 
claims and published a complete list of brothels in the city which 
of course served as an excellent guidebook and was facetiously 
referred to as the Whorehouse Directory. 

McDowall also must be given credit for staging New York s first 

Harper, Richard 79 

"sex fair," an exhibition of pornography in a local church. In it he 
displayed the various obscene materials he had readily obtained, 
from books all the way to naughty pastries. Clergymen streamed in 
to see the special showing, and they expressed the proper outrage 
and regret. It was said that some of the porn-parson s financial 
angels were also accorded a special private peek. 

As the reverend s behavior and devotion to the perverse be 
came more pronounced, many other religious leaders attacked him 
for his bizarre devotion to duty. Finally he was indicted by a grand 
jury for subverting the morals of the city. He was also accused of 
misusing funds contributed to his supposedly nonprofit publica 
tion. He avoided conviction by quitting his publishing pursuits and 
being defrocked. He died in obscurity a few years later, still insist 
ing to the few who paid him any mind that he had saved the morals 
of the city. 

Harper, Diehard (9-C.1839) 


The record on Chicago s first town character, Richard Harper, is 
not a clear one. He is presented as being, in the early part of the 
19th century, the town s first thief meaning obviously the first to 
be caught. Before that, according to various historians, he was the 
town s first vagrant. One such historian informs us he was an un 
fortunate wanderer laid low by frontier whiskey so that he appar 
ently remained in a supine position for several decades, begging 
money for drinks and resorting to sneak thievery when the need 
arose. As to his background, one 19th-century profiler insists that 
he was a ne er-do-well from Maryland who never did a day s labor 
in his life. Yet another makes Harper out to have been originally 
an Easterner of considerable respectability and education doing 
penance for some unknown sin. 

Whatever Harper s distant past, his presence in the Chicago of 
founder Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable s time, when it was known to 

80 Harper, Richard 

the Indians as Shi-kai-o or "place of the wild onions," is better 
recorded. He was the town fool, someone to tease or mistreat sav 
agely, or he might even be offered an empty whiskey jug to drink. 

In 1833 Chicago got around to constructing its first jail, made 
of "logs firmly bolted together," and the vagrant Harper was incar 
cerated therein as its first prisoner. The charge was theft but the 
particulars are no longer in evidence. Thereafter, Harper was fre 
quently in deep trouble because of a state vagrancy law. Finally, late 
that year, the authorities apparently got tired of scraping him off 
the sidewalk and incarcerating him; instead they exercised their 
rights under the statute to auction him off as a manservant. 

A considerable segment of public opinion was rather upset at a 
white man being put up for sale in this manner, but such outrage 
did not carry over to anyone s purse. The only bidder for Harper 
was George White, the black town crier, who bought himself a 
servant for the impressive sum of 25 cents. White led his property 
away at the end of a chain. 

According to historian John J. Flinn, who was nearly contem 
poraneous with Harper but whose reports need not always be taken 
at face value, the vagrant escaped from White that very night and 
"never was seen in these parts again." 

Actually, "Harper, Richard, called Old Vagrant/ " appears in 
the city s first directory in 1839, indicating that he was still around 
then. The only logical surmise is that town crier White was induced 
to free his slave, there being those in the community apparently 
who had coughed up enough cash who knows, perhaps as much 
as a dollar to buy Harper s freedom. Clearly, the choice between 
having an eccentric vagrant littering the scenery and a white man 
in servitude to a black was not much of a close call. 

Henry, George W. 81 

Henry, George W. (1801-1888) 

Throughout the history of man, religion has taken many forms, 
utilizing some violent manifestations of the spirit to pay homage to 
the Deity. Early in the 19th century, a New Yorker from Oneida, 
George W. Henry, was himself converted and sanctified at religious 
camp meetings, thereafter becoming a circuit preacher. However, 
even in the company of such stalwarts of that stripe as John Wesley, 
Peter Cartwright, Benjamin Abbott, and J. B. Finley, Mr, Henry 
stands out most singularly. 

He was known at camp meetings in America as Henry the Holy 
Shouter. The title hardly does him justice, for he believed in far 
more than shouting in his practice of theology. In what must stand 
as a unique theological classic, Henry espoused his beliefs in a 1859 
book, the title of which covers a number of his tenets Shouting: 

Circuit preacher George Henry, the Holy Shouter, posed with his son for the frontispiece 
of his definitive work on that unique method of worship. "Great shouts, issuing forth 
from deep in the abdomen," he advised, "made Heaven take notice." 

82 Henry, George W. 

Genuine and Spurious in All Ages of the Church. . . . Giving a History of 
the Outward Demonstrations of the Spirit, such as Laughing, Screaming, 
Shouting, Leaping, Jerking and Falling under the Power. 

Presumably, Henry offered his manuscript to a number of 
commercial publishers, but all of them rejected it. Undeterred, he 
printed and bound it himself, burnishing the edges of each volume 
with fine gold. 

We have no record of the book s sales, but the feeling endures 
that Henry did yeoman work hawking his wares. Henry was the 
champion of hearty, devout laughter and indeed revelled in the 
giggles, snickers, and uproarious reactions of his congregations. 
Indeed, his own conversion had come at a camp meeting one night 
when he awoke to find his mouth "filled with loud laughter." In 
fact, Henry s laughter roused the entire encampment and "saints" 
gathered around the door of his tent. The word "glory" rolled from 
his mouth, as he put it, "like hot bomb-shells from a mortar." 

When Henry got hundreds of shouters praising God at once, 
the tumult was indeed tremendous. Gre?at shouts erupting deep 
from the abdomen, he averred, made Heaven take notice. However, 
Henry was not to be fooled by false shouters among the truly con 
verted. "Men may pass counterfeit money on ignorant men," he 
declared, "but it is not so easy to deceive a sanctified ear in regard 
to a genuine shout. . . . There is as much difference between the 
true and counterfeit shout and song as between the sounds of a 
maniac dancing to the music of his own chains and the sweet music 
that enraptures the saints in heaven." 

As much as Henry loved shouts, he most certainly enjoyed a 
good jerk as well. At his camp meetings, he noted, "most usually, 
persons taken with jerks, to obtain relief, as they said, would rise 
up and dance. Some would run, but could not get away. Some would 
resist; on such the jerks were very severe. ... I have seen more than 
five hundred persons jerking at one time in my large congrega 

Mr. Henry did not think highly of worshipers who insisted on 
wearing their finest raiment. "To see those proud young gentlemen 
and young ladies, dressed in their silks, jewelry and prunella, from 
top to toe, take the jerks would often excite my risibilities. The first 
jerk or so you would see their fine bonnets, caps and combs fly; and 
so sudden would be the jerking of the head, that their long loose 
hair would crack almost as loud as a wagoner s whip." Mr. Henry 
was clearly a holy man of the people. 

Henry exhorted his followers with other tomes besides those 
given to the holiness of shouting and other wild reactions. He au- 

Large, Albert 83 

thored such works as Trials and Triumphs or Travels in Egypt, Twilight 
or Beulah; Wedlock and Padlock, Temporal and Spiritual; and the Camp 
Meeting Hymn Book. Later in life George Henry went blind but that 
did nothing to still his abdominal Hallelujahs and Amens. Religion 
has not seen or heard his likes since. 

Large, Albert (c.1805-?) 


An unrequited affair of the heart caused Albert Large to trek off 
into the Pennsylvania woods to become a 19th-century "wolf man." 
He was, at the time, in his thirties and, to the residents of Bucks 
County, a bit queer. He d been that way since early youth. The 
effort to keep him in school was truly a lost cause. Sent off to the 
little red schoolhouse, he followed his feet on other paths, straying 
into the woods away from the cares and worries of book learning. 
His mother died and was replaced by a stepmother who cared little 
what he did save that, as he got older, she undoubtedly wished he 
would leave the family fireside. 

Albert himself got to thinking that way when, in his thirties, he 
set his sights on a girl living down the valley. A beauty she was, so it 
would be hard to imagine what she could see in Albert. Rejected 
time and again, Albert finally concluded he was unwanted by her, 
his own family, almost everybody. So Albert left. 

There was in Bucks County a certain hilltop popularly called 
Wolfs Rock because it was known that she-wolves found it a safe 
area for their litters. Humans, even hunters, generally avoided the 
area, Albert however had often trekked over the hill in quest of 
solitude, and now that he wanted to make the condition permanent, 
he set up housekeeping there. 

The wolves? There is no evidence they wanted any more to do 
with him than had their human counterparts. 

Albert cleaned out a small cave and proceeded to fix it up for 
housekeeping. It sported a kitchen, with a crevice for a chimney, 
and a separate, boarded-off bedroom, just in case wolves slipped 
into the cave at night. 

84 Pierce, Jane Means 

Albert was not a true cave dweller. By day, he shut off his cave 
with a large rock and trekked through the woods. By night, he 
slipped down into the valley and raided hen roosts, stealing other 
provisions. He even stole jugs of liquor. Albert was not the sort to 
be without the human comforts, even if he had forsaken human 

Albert proved a good provider and, when winter set in, he 
could hole up in his cave for weeks on end, gorging on stolen food 
and slugging down stolen liquor. 

Remarkably, Albert managed to stay out of sight for more than 
20 years. Indeed, his family and neighbors had searched for him 
when he was first missed. They scoured the countryside but never 
found his cave up in Wolfs Rock. In time, he was presumed dead. 

So it was electrifying news when on April 9, 1858, some hunt 
ers followed wolf tracks up to Albert s cave, to encounter the love 
sick Hermit of Wolfs Rock, as he was subsequently called. To the 
folks of the valley, it was as if Albert Large had returned from the 
dead. He became something of a folk hero, queer perhaps, but a 
man of some accomplishment, having conquered the wilds for two 
whole decades. 

Of course, in time, some thought was given to the 20 years of 
farm and town depredation. There was no way to gauge how many 
people had falsely suspected their neighbors of stealing from them. 
This was no concern to Albert Large however. He soon vanished 
into the woods again. Wolves, he discovered anew, were better com 
pany than humans. 

Pierce, Jane Means (1806-1863) 


No American First Lady, not even Mary Todd Lincoln, matched the 
bizarre behavior of Mrs. Franklin Pierce, the wife of the fourteenth 
U.S. president. She did not even appear at the inauguration of her 
husband, and for half of his term she never appeared in public. She 
locked herself away in her bedroom, and it was said that about the 

Pierce, Jane Means 85 

Nicknamed "The Shadow in the 
White House," First Lady Jane 
Means Pierce locked herself away in 
her bedroom as much to avoid her 
husband as to escape society and 
politics. (Library of Congress) 

only time she ventured down to the first floor of the White House 
was to take meals. Newspapers irate at her behavior nicknamed her 
The Shadow in the White House." 

Pierce was most sympathetic toward his wife, despite the polit 
ical embarrassment she caused him. He knew their marriage had 
been a tragic one, and he undoubtedly felt guilt for the misery he 
caused her. They had had three children, none of whom lived to 
be 12 years old. One died in infancy, another at the age of four. 
The most tragic death of all occurred in January 1853, two months 
before Pierce took office. The Pierces and their 11-year-old son, 
Benny, were involved in a railroad accident: the child s head was 
sliced in two. Jane Pierce shrieked until the president-elect threw a 
shawl over the dead child and led her away. 

Jane blamed Pierce and his political career for the boy s death, 
and she had other complaints about her husband. Even after he 
won the Democratic nomination for the presidency as a "dark 
horse" at the convention on the forty-ninth ballot, she pressed him 
not to campaign actively in the election because of her hatred 
for politics. When he won, she took that as a betrayal, just as she 
had felt betrayed previously by Pierce s well-known bouts with 

Compounding the blame she heaped on her husband were her 
own feelings of guilt for not having been more attentive to her son 

86 Patch, Sam 

while he was alive. She often stayed up late into the night writing 
letters to Benny, begging forgiveness for not having been affection 
ate enough toward him. 

Finally, in 1855, Jane Pierce attended her first social function 
in the White House, a New Year s Day reception. What should have 
been a joyous event became a disaster; her wan expression and 
mourning clothes cast a pall over the proceedings. Jane never 
emerged from her gloom, wearing mourning her last two years in 
the White House and indeed right up to the time of her death 
in 1863. 

Patch, 6am (c.1807^1829) 


Sam Patch, who comes down to us as a great American folk hero, 
was the product of a strange mania that hit this nation in the first 
quarter of the 19th century. It was jumping. Manhood was ex 
pressed by sailors jumping over the sides of their ships, farmers 
jumping fences, store clerks bolting their counters. 

Some historians have suggested that this era, especially after 
the War of 1812, was one in which brash men of modest circum 
stances were advancing in the young country that was also just 
starting to flex its muscles. The jumpers were expressing this desire 
to get ahead. And Sam Patch was destined to become the Jumping 
Hero of the nation. 

Does a daredevil qualify as an eccentric? This question can be 
debated in general but not in the specific when it comes to Sam 
Patch. In later years as the mythmakers took over, Patch was trans 
mitted into the "fakelore" of other mythical characters such as Paul 
Bunyan. He was made larger than life and pure of heart (did he 
not, before his last and fatal jump, ask that all his monies be sent to 
his mother?), intrepid, debonair. The real Sam Patch was a "wharf 
rat" and an ignorant loafer, a short, chunky sot who pilfered the 
piers. Debonair? Eyewitnesses described him as being stone drunk 
before he made his famed jumps. 

Patch, Sam 87 

But after all cowardice is something understood when dealing 
with daredeviltry. Such a failing could be excused had Sam Patch 
in his two-year jumping career not come to believe he was truly one 
of God s greatest creations. Napoleon was great, he allowed. Wel 
lington beat Napoleon, so naturally he was greater. But neither of 
them could jump like Sam Patch, so he was greater than both of 

Nathaniel Hawthorne, certainly an observer of the darker side 
of man s character, wrote: "How stern a moral may be drawn from 
the story of poor Sam Patch! Was the leaper of cataracts more mad 
or foolish than other men who throw away life, or misspend it in 
pursuit of empty fame, and seldom so triumphantly as he?" 

Sam started jumping rather naturally, in line with the contem 
porary mania. He had tried sailoring and then became a mill hand 
in Rhode Island. The Slater Mill, just above the Pawtucket Falls, 
had a bridge nearby, and the hardier mill hands took to jumping 
from it into the water. 

Later Sam moved on to the Hamilton Mills in Passaic, New 
Jersey. Here, often and loudly, he would declare he was going to 
dive 90 feet from a bridge into the Passaic River. The law would 
have no such suicidal nonsense, and he was arrested. But Sam es 
caped, jumping from the rocks at the foot of the bridge. Later he 
jumped from the bridge itself, thereby leaping into national prom 

There was money to be made in jumping, and Sam started 
traveling the country demonstrating his prowess, dropping from 
the yardarms and bowsprits of ships; all these jumps were rather 
tame compared to his Rhode Island escapades and his great Passaic 
River dive. Had he stuck merely to them, passing the hat after 
begging the crowd that, if he died, the monies were to be sent to 
his dear mother, Sam might have lived a long time. 

However Sam got to really believing in himself. What on this 
continent, he wondered, was worthy of his death defying? He de 
cided it was Niagara Falls. In a classic jump from a rock atop Goat 
Island, he dropped down half the height of the falls. 

The acclaim was thunderous. "The jump of Patch is the great 
est feat of the kind ever effected by man," the Buffalo Republican 

With press notices like that, Patch began to have his delusions 
of grandeur. He looked for an even greater challenge. He found it 
at the Genesee River in New York. He announced he would jump 
from the banks above the Genesee Falls "into the abyss below, a 
distance of 125 feet." He rejected the sane advice of those who told 

88 Patch, Sam 

him he had been lucky at Niagara and that he should jump no 

The residents of Monroe and Ontario counties poured out for 
the great jump. Coach and schooner excursions were organized. In 
any bar in the area one could place a bet on the outcome Sam 
Patch or the falls, which one would win? 

At the appointed hour Sam climbed up to the platform. Some 
thought he staggered and lacked his usual verve. Some said he was 
reeling drunk. Others said he had had but a single glass of brandy, 
to steel himself against the November cold. Sam made a brief and 
rambling speech. He talked of Napoleon and Wellington. Had they 
ever jumped the Genesee Falls? That was left for Sam Patch. 

Sam s bravado may not have lasted his lifetime however. His 
jump lacked its usual precision. Before he was halfway down, his 
arms began to flail. It was as though he were trying to climb the air. 
Had he sobered enough during those last split seconds to realize 
that this was more than mere tomfoolery? 

His body hit the water, his arms and legs hopelessly extended. 
It didn t come back to the surface. In fact, Sam s body was not 
found until the following March 17, near Lake Ontario. 

But if Sam died in a sad display of madness, there were scores 
of poets and rhymesters ready to pay him tribute in verse. Legends 
grew around him. His deeds grew. He achieved household cur 
rency "before you could say Sam Patch." 

Poems appeared about the "Great Descender." He was com 
pared to Columbus, Newton, Galileo, Nelson, and Franklin. Wil 
liam Dean Howells had one of his characters express shock when 
his wife proved to be ignorant of Patch. "Isabel," he cried, "your 
ignorance of all that an American woman should be proud of dis 
tresses me." 

Yet perhaps it was the children of Patch s day who more cor 
rectly gauged the real Sam Patch. They played to a jingle that went: 

Poor Samuel Patch a man once world renounded, 
Much loved the water, and by it was drownded. 
He sought for fame, and as he reached to pluck it, 
He lost his ballast, and then kicked the buck-it. 

Sam was 22 when he died. No money, it appears, was sent to 
his mother. 

Pratt, Daniel 89 

Pratt Daniel (1809-1887) 


One of the most famous and popular vagrants of the 19th century, 
Daniel Pratt was a deluded soul who was dubbed by the press "the 
great American Traveler." He covered well over 200,000 miles in 
his wanderings from Maine to remote army posts in the Dakotas, 
visiting 27 states and 16 Indian tribes. As his fame spread, he could 
rely on the kindness of strangers, white and red, to offer him food 
and shelter. He was clearly demented, but those taking him in could 
count on being regaled with wild tales of his misadventures; he was 
particularly welcomed on college campuses. Madman perhaps; a 
challenge to the intellect nevertheless. 

Born in the Prattville district of Chelsea, Massachusetts, he 
belonged to a lesser branch of the family that gave the district its 
name. In his youth he worked as a carpenter s helper, until he 
suddenly disappeared. When he turned up again a dozen years 
later, he talked nonsense and was called by residents "maggot- 
brained" and "brainsick." He spoke of roaming the country going 
nowhere, and soon he was on his way there again. Over the years 
Pratt trekked by foot from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., 17 
times and witnessed the inauguration of five presidents. These were 
not happy journeys for him; his chief delusion was that he had 
been elected president but was constantly deprived of his office by 
scheming politicians. 

Often his recourse was to tour New England college campuses, 
denouncing the political system and urging the future graduates to 
change it and, in the process, give him his due by placing him in 
the White House. Regularly, almost as sure as a holiday, Pratt 
turned up spring and fall on the campuses of such institutions as 
Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown, arriving in town and putting up in a 
cheap hotel. In his frock coat and dingy stovepipe hat he looked 
very much the retired professor as he took up his station under the 
campus elms, there awaiting a call to a hastily organized lecture. 
The students, attending in the hundreds, were always taken by his 
oratorical style which, although he said little that made sense, was 
filled with remarkable word-creations and a stunning mastery of 
the non sequitur. Among his favorite topics, all guaranteed to 
produce handsome returns in the collections that followed, were 
"The Four Kingdoms," "The Harmony of the Human Mind," "The 

90 Smith, Thomas 

Solar System," and perhaps most dazzling of all, "The Vocabula- 
boratory of the World s History." 

College authorities did not think highly of Pratt s visits and on 
several occasions tried to eject him from the campus. However a 
"Praetorian Guard" of students generally protected him from the 
philistines and more than once sent the disciplinary officers fleeing. 
At Dartmouth once a group of appreciative students and faculty 
conferred on him the honorary degree of C.O.D., for Cash On 
Delivery. A jest of course; yet here was a lunatic worthy of the 
recognition and esteem no other babbler could achieve. 

In his last years Pratt confined his wanderings to Boston, still 
demanding his presidency but willing to be pacified by citizens 
referring to him as "General." 

<S>mith, "Windwagon" Thomas (c.1810-?) 

Exactly when Tom Smith, a New England sailor, first came up with 
the notion that the prairies of the Midwest were neither prairies 
nor plains but really "dry oceans" is not apparent. It seemed to the 
folks in Nickport, Massachusetts, that he was always talking that 
way, which was especially odd since he had never seen the prairies. 
Nonetheless, Tom was sure of one thing; a smart seadog could sail 
that country. He could design a wagon, four times, no ten times the 
size of the standard covered wagon, and transport it across the 
plains at breakneck speed so fast that it would easily run over any 
horses trying to pull it. 

For quite a spell Tom Smith, and his "windwagon," was all talk. 
But one day early in 1853 Tom announced down at Sharp s General 
Store that he was a-goin west. The men around the cracker barrel 
were duly impressed. Windwagon Thomas was after all a man of 
action. The jokes about Tom ceased, and even the Nickport News, 
announcing the event, reported Windwagon Thomas plans with a 
degree of awe. "Tom Smith plans to leave Nickport next week to go 

Smith, Thomas 91 

to Baltimore. From Baltimore, he aims to go Out West on the Na 
tional Road. Good Luck, Tom." 

Later that year Windwagon Thomas arrived in Westport, Mis 
souri, with his Yankee scheme for navigating the prairies with wind 
power. Westport long since swallowed up by Kansas City was at 
the time the launching site for many of the wagon trains moving 
westward, via the Oregon Trail to the Northwest and the Santa Fe 
Trail toward the Southwest. Westport capitalized on the prairie 
schooner business, both the freight business to Santa Fe and the 
emigrant traffic. 

Windwagon Thomas was quite a spellbinder and, even if the 
Missouri folk had a certain reserve about accepting the words of a 
Yankee slicker, his spiel seemed to make sense. Why couldn t man 
use the powerful prairie winds to drive his wagons? Lord knew, 
those winds could blow a body about. Perhaps they might have 
reconsidered if they knew Smith s reputation as a "wild talker" back 
in Massachusetts. 

Still, folks weren t about to buy a boat in a poke by any means, 
and they demanded to be shown. Windwagon Thomas was eager 
to oblige. He mounted a sail on a small wagon and negotiated the 
300-mile round trip from Westport to Council Grove without ben 
efit of horsepower. He explained he was improvising and not get 
ting the proper speed out of his land craft and would not until a 
special windwagon was built with the proper nautical appurte 

"That windwagon will fly over the plains," he bragged. His 
wagon would cut through the prairie dirt like a hot knife through 
butter, outrunning all beasts of burden and, of course, pursuing 
Indian ponies as well 

To the businessmen of Westport, the demonstration and 
Smith s promises about a superior wagon made hard business sense. 
The Overland Navigation Company was formed, including among 
its directors Windwagon Thomas; Dr. J. W. Parker, the town s lead 
ing physician; Benjamin Newsom, the Indian agent; Henry Sager; 
Thomas M. Adams; and J. J. Mastin, a brilliant young lawyer. 

The building of the windwagon was the biggest show to hit 
Westport in years and, as it grew, folks started feeling like the 
Trojans when the Greeks constructed that famous wooden horse. 
What folks didn t know was that Westport was getting its own Trojan 

The mammoth wagon was somewhat similar to the Conestoga 
prairie schooner, but it looked more like a rude ship. About 25 feet 

92 Smith, Thomas 

long, seven feet in beam, it was equipped with huge wheels, 12 feet 
in diameter; the hubs alone were as big as barrels. The huge sail 
and mast rose a full 20 feet over the wagon. The local blacksmith 
fashioned an anchor for it, and the ropemaker constructed a special 
ladder for access to and from it. And this, Wind wagon Thomas 
informed his investors, was only a small model of the land craft 
they would build later, one that could transport several families and 
all their possessions at the same time. The oxen would not be able 
to keep up, so they too would be loaded aboard the super models. 
Windwagon Thomas got a wild glaze in his eyes as he spoke, but 
then so too did the Overland directors. The profit potential for the 
windwagon was staggering. 

Westport did itself up proud for the great launching ceremony. 
Unfortunately President Franklin Pierce, Secretary of State William 
Marcy, and Secretary of the Navy James Dobbin (Windwagon 
Thomas thought it appropriate that he especially be invited) were 
unable to attend because of pressing affairs of state. Still, in the 
crowd were some governors, congressmen, and important folks 
from as far away as Council Groves. They set off a mighty cheer as 
a team of 20 oxen hauled the windwagon to the open plain. It was 
an inspiring sight painted in red, white, and blue stripes, with a 
great white sail and a cigar-store Indian figurehead. 

The maiden voyage aboard the windwagon, much to the dis 
appointment of the visiting politicians, was restricted to investors, 
who scampered gleefully up a special gangplank. Only Doc Parker 
did not come aboard. He mounted a saddle mule loaded down with 
medical supplies, "just in case." 

Then Windwagon Thomas took his position on deck, made 
sail, and took the helm. The craft soared over the plain, over small 
hills and through gullies. The speed amazed the windwagon s pas 
sengers, but Thomas hadn t even opened it up yet. "Now I ll really 
let her take the wind," he cried, swigging from a bottle in triumph. 
He put the helm over, and the windwagon rounded smartly. But 
suddenly the wind caught her and, despite all of Thomas efforts, 
she went cockeyed in reverse. Doc Parker, who had disappeared on 
the horizon moments before, came sharply back in view. He had to 
whip his ass fiercely to get the beast out of the way of the free- 
running craft. 

Aboard the windwagon, the stockholders were cursing 
Thomas those that hadn t become wagon-sick, that is. There was 
nothing Windwagon Thomas could do: the steering gear had 
locked, and so the craft sailed round and round in a mile-wide 
circle. When the windwagon slowed a bit in the slackening wind, 

Smith, Thomas 93 

the stockholders started going overboard, welcoming the risk of 
bodily injury to escape the careening craft. Determined to remain 
with his ship and go down, if need be, with colors flying, Windwag- 
on Thomas held to the deck until the windwagon ground to a stop 
against a stake-and-ride fence on Turkey Creek. 

After that, there was not much to be said. Some of the inves 
tors, many of whom were suffering from injuries, talked of prose 
cuting Windwagon Thomas, but it was doubtful he had any assets 
aside from the windwagon itself, and nobody wanted that. 

Thomas actually tried to talk folks into giving the windwagon 
another chance. They turned their backs on him. The next morn 
ing Windwagon Thomas mounted his craft, cursing the cowardice 
of the "landlubbers," and sailed away. 

The records of the white man offer no further mention of 
Windwagon Thomas, but Western historian Stanley Vestal, a man 
whose respect for Indians gained him access to their lore, in later 
years learned of the Indians hearsay concerning Windwagon. He 

Somewhere north of the Santa Fe Trail (the Arkansas 
River) a white man travelling in such a vehicle encountered a 
camp of Arapahoes. The flag the Indians mention was evi 
dently the sail, though the red men had no notion that it had 
anything to do with the movement of the craft. In that camp 
was a visiting Sioux, or perhaps a Cheyenne, from whom our 
cloudy story comes. Apparently, the Indians found Thomas 
stalled, or should we say becalmed? That would account for 
their boast that they did not run. But the windwagon did run 
later, after they had made friends with its navigator. Whither 
he sailed, or what became of him, my informant could not tell. 

94 Noyes, John Humphrey 

Nqyea. John Humphrey (1811-1686) 

John Humphrey Noyes is often credited with being the first expo 
nent of "free love" in America. He was not, but he did coin the 
phrase and pursued its goals with the passion of a Galileo exploring 
the skies. With Noyes sex was an obsession, requiring orderly rules 
to permit disorderly activities. 

He was the first to formalize mate-swapping, giving it the high- 
flown name of "complex marriage." Even though he came up with 
certain rules that later won praise from sex experts such as Have- 
lock Ellis, there is no doubt that Noyes was a sex nut. In the Oneida 
Community he formed in New York, 300 of his followers consid 
ered themselves married to one another. Exclusive attachments 
were not permitted, although anyone had the right to refuse inter 
course if he or she wished. A special committee kept a large ledger 
in which it was recorded who was sleeping with whom, and when, 
etc. One character who wouldn t take no from a certain woman was 
chastised, on Noyes* orders, by being heaved out of a window into 
a snowbank to cool his ardor. 

The firstborn of a religious couple in Brattleboro, Vermont, 
Noyes was studying theology at the Yale Theological Seminary when 
he made the stunning discovery that he was free of all sin. This was 
possible, he determined, because the Second Coming of Christ had 
occurred in 70 A.D. He started preaching about the perfectability 
of man, which led to being expelled from school and stripped of 
his preacher s license. 

Noyes kept right on preaching his gospel anyway, including his 
very permissive ideas on sex. With his red hair and freckles, he was 
not a handsome man, but his message seemed to have made him 
popular in some circles. 

It also lost him a potential bride, Abigail Merwin, eight years 
his senior, who was much taken with him but was finally convinced 
by her parents that Noyes was a bit touched. When she married 
another, Noyes was shattered. He went off to New York City, where 
he preached his doctrine for a few years in the slums. He slept in 
hallways, telling vagrants and bums that they had perfection within 
them and were therefore entitled to the love of all good women. 
His listeners agreed with his precepts but somehow nothing much 
came of it. In 1838, contrary to his view that a man should not 

Noyes, John Humphrey 95 

engage in an official marriage, he wed Harriet Holton, a woman of 
considerable means, and they settled in Putney, Vermont. 

There Noyes devoted his mind to the intricacies of his new 
gospel, especially on such matters as ejaculation. He came to the 
conclusion that "it is as foolish and cruel to expend one s seed on a 
wife merely for the sake of getting rid of it, as it would be to fire a 
gun at one s best friend merely for the sake of unloading it." From 
this major deduction Noyes came up with the idea of male conti 
nence. Harriet liked that, having had four stillbirths out of five up 
until then. So did many men Noyes talked to. Even more so did 
many women, perhaps because Noyes philosophy held the female 
orgasm in great esteem, an idea not to be reborn in America until 
after the time of Kinsey. 

Mary Cragin, a female much taken with the teachings of "The 
Honorable John," as Noyes encouraged folks to call him, came to 
him with a straightaway proposition that Noyes did not want to 
refuse. Noyes went to his wife and Mary s husband, spelling out his 
idea of a four-way marriage. It was agreed, and mate-swapping 
came to Putney. In all, 35 persons were ready for this new life-style, 
although the rest of the Vermont community certainly was not. In 
1847 Noyes was arrested for adultery. He jumped bail and fled to 
Oneida, New York, where his wife, Mary, Mary s spouse, and a few 
dozen converts soon joined him. 

In time the Oneida Community grew to be 300 strong. They 
lived communally, sharing everything in their conception of a "Bible 
Communism." Being able to feed themselves mainly by trapping 
animals, the Oneidians soon began to concentrate on making goods 
to sell to the outside world; chiefly they sold canned fruits and 
vegetables, animal traps, straw hats, mop sticks, and the silverware 
that they would become famous for. The salesmen who went forth 
to thus raise funds were enthusiastically welcomed back by the 
women who treated them to communal Turkish baths and other 

The sexual rules of the Honorable John applied rigidly to those 
who remained home. Older women were required to teach the 
young men the concept of male continence, while virgin girls, many 
in their early teens, were introduced to complex marriage by old 
men acting as "first husbands," a role Noyes played with consider 
able ardor himself. 

It was estimated that Noyes took hundreds of lovers in his 
lifetime. He sired at least nine of 58 children born under his "stirpi- 
culture" program whereby the most well-endowed men were cho 
sen to sire children. 

96 Marshall, James Wilson 

There were many other rules, nonsexual in character, that 
applied to the community, but Noyes and his eccentric sexual theo 
ries were the glue that held things together. Trouble invaded this 
paradise in 1877, when jealous males started complaining that 
Noyes was monopolizing most of the pretty young girls. They finally 
went so far as to charge him with statutory rape. Noyes was forced 
to flee to Canada, where he lived to the age of 74 with his wife, 
sisters, and a small group of followers, mostly women. 

Back in Oneida, his experiment in sexual freedom and com 
munistic possession of property failed to survive a year without its 
prophet. The members voted to incorporate and establish private 
ownership. There was no more sharing of wives. Indeed, it got so 
that it was very difficult for an Oneidian to as much as borrow a 
hammer from a neighbor. 

Marshall, James Wilson (1812-1885) 


James Marshall s place in history was secured on January 24, 1848; 
while working as a carpenter for John A. Sutter, Marshall noticed 
some bright metal beneath a mill he was building at Coloma, Cali 
fornia. It turned out to be gold, and the great California Gold Rush 
was on. It was, to Marshall s eternal frustration, virtually the last bit 
of the yellow metal he would ever find. 

Both he and Sutter became famous and both became poor. 
The two men in on the ground floor went broke while others made 
fortunes. For a time Marshall made money selling lumber to feed 
the gold towns and camps that sprang up all around. His lumber 
sold for $500 per 1,000 board feet, but the stand of timber was 
soon depleted, and he spent the money almost as fast as he had 
made it. 

In desperation Marshall took to mining, and he was always 
welcomed as a hero at the mining camps. Other gold hunters 
viewed him as eternally lucky and staked out claims near wherever 
he prospected. Sometimes they struck it rich and sometimes not, 

Marshall, James Wilson 97 

but Marshall never did. Occasionally Marshall misdirected prospec 
tors to what he regarded as the most unlikely spots, only to suffer 
the agony of seeing them hit pay dirt. 

The thought of his ill fortune festered on Marshall s mind until 
he was driven to the point of delusion. He developed the idea that 
everyone was cheating him out of his gold, that in fact all the gold 
in California belonged to him. 

He became the crank of the mining camps, altering miner s 
claim boundaries literally a hanging offense for all but the hero 
who found California s gold. However, Marshall continued his ill- 
tempered acts, and finally he was driven out of one camp after 
another, warned not to return unless he wished a tar-and-feather- 
ing or an even worse fate at the end of a noose. 

Also weighing heavily on Marshall was the fact that Sutter of 
ten won the honors as the discoverer of gold, and when the latter 
went broke he was awarded a state pension of $250 a month. Mar 
shall snarled out an angry autobiography and finally won himself 
what he considered an unjust pension of only $100 a month. Still 
he managed for six years to live comfortably, but then the legisla 
ture neglected to renew his special grant, and Marshall became an 
indigent, living in a rude shack within sight of his historic find. 

He rejected intercourse with persons trying to befriend him 
and was often seen walking alone, talking to himself. He died in 
1885 and was buried at Coloma. Four years after his death the 
Society of the Native Sons topped his mean grave with a statue of a 
bronze figure of the Discoverer of Gold. Ironically, the funds ex 
pended for the monument would have eliminated the want and 
suffering he endured during the last eight years of his life. 

98 Lee Ah Bow 

Lee Ah 5ow (c.1814-1912) 


Lee Ah Bow, one of the most controversial Chinese people ever to 
settle in New York City, is often described by careless historians as 
the first member of his race in that city. In fact, he arrived no earlier 
than 1847, at least seven years after the first Chinese settled on 
Mott Street. Lee Ah Bow was imported to the West Coast by Amer 
ican slavers who sold him in California. How he eventually made 
his way to New York remains a mystery. 

In any event he came and soon wound up a regular in the 
police records recorded, in the strange ways of the white man, as 
Quimby Appo; probably, as the latter-day crime reporter Meyer 
Berger theorized, for no other reason than that the New York police 
have always shown a weakness on names. 

Lee Ah Bow was an odd sort, as one must be to have served 
four terms in the New York prison called the Tombs, for murder, 
as well serving several other stretches on lesser charges. Yet the 
prevailing public attitude was that Lee Ah Bow was to be tolerated, 
that his murderous ways with a knife, for example, often had a 
great deal of justification, and far from being a homicidal mad 
man, he deserved to be elevated to the level of a sort of homicidal 

Lee Ah Bow was a muscular little man with great strength and 
a short temper, but prison guards always made allowances for his 
nasty behavior, delighted to have such an oddity to exhibit to visi 
tors. Hardly anyone in New York had till then seen a Chinese, and 
certainly not a dangerous one. Missionary ladies vied energeti 
callysometimes, it was said, almost to the point of violence 
against each other for the honor of converting Lee Ah Bow to their 
respective faiths. Lee Ah Bow was delighted by the competition and 
switched religions constantly, depending on who had last tempted 
him with a good cigar or a succulent roast chicken. These white 
ladies, he appears to have concluded, must all have been quite mad. 

Lee Ah Bow got into his first serious trouble in 1859. He was 
living at the time with one Catherine Fitzpatrick, about whom he 
had a number of complaints, the most offensive of which, to the 
Chinese husband, was that she couldn t cook; but she also often 
arrived home drunk. When Catherine came in suffering from beer 
hiccups, the angry little Chinese upbraided her, and she promptly 

Lee Ah Bow 99 

shoved him up against the hot coal stove. Lee Ah Bow screamed 
but his inamorata did not let him off the red iron. In desperation 
he bit her and she screamed. A neighbor, Mary Fletcher, rushed in, 
decided it was a case of a celestial going amok and wrestled him 
perilously close to the blazing coal stove again. Lee Ah Bow stuck 
her with a knife and fled. Another neighbor, a decidedly bulky 
woman, tried to inhibit his flight by turning her back on him on the 
stairway. Lee Ah Bow cleared a path by jabbing his weapon into her 
rump- not fatally. 

Lee Ah Bow was eventually caught, convicted of murder, and 
sentenced to hang. Clearly, he had been ill represented legally, 
considering the extenuating circumstances, which Lee Ah Bow 
readily exhibited in his death cell by showing off his burn scars. 

The missionaries got the death sentence commuted, and Lee 
Ah Bow was released after doing only a few years. Not long after 
ward, Lee Ah Bow used his knife on a Miss Lizzie Williams, his 
Bowery landlady, but she too had a bad reputation, being known to 
rifle her boarders possessions. A lawyer hired by the missionary 
ladies made mincemeat of the murder charge, and Lee Ah Bow 
was released after doing only a brief stint in the Tombs. 

In the early 1870s Lee Ah Bow, somewhat under the influence, 
did in a laborer named John Linkowski by caving in his head with 
a cobblestone. It was an open question as to who started the argu 
ment and who dug the cobblestone out of the street, but Linkowski 
was noted as a man who hated the Chinese "heathens." As a com 
promise, Lee Ah Bow was given three years. 

By now the newspapers were referring to him as "Devil Appo" 
and "The Chinese Devilman." Lee Ah Bow was showing a bit of an 
antisocial streak. He would constantly gnash his teeth and try to 
bite the hands of trusties serving him food through his cell bars. 
The missionary ladies were undeterred. Lee Ah Bow, they felt, had 
a right to be upset by the way the white man s law was treating him. 
Besides, he was most polite to them whenever they visited him, 
especially when they brought him the Good Book and some food 
and other presents. 

In 1875 Lee Ah Bow took a knife to Cork Mag, a Bowery 
streetwalker, but the law did nothing about it. Cork Mag recovered, 
and it seemed she was at fault; she had tried to lure Lee Ah Bow 
from his new Christian ways. However, in 1876 Lee Ah Bow lost a 
game of draughts to a derelict named John Kelly. When Kelly 
laughed triumphantly, Lee Ah Bow naturally resorted to his trusty 
knife with fatal results. 

By this time Coroner Woltman felt the city had had enough of 

100 Monk, Maria 

the Chinese s fatal moodiness and he declared he thought Lee Ah 
Bow, whatever his difficulties with grasping Western ways in the 
past, had definitely become unhinged. A number of alienists 
agreed and Lee Ah Bow was transferred from the Tombs to the 
state institution for the insane at Matteawan. Not everyone could 
disagree with Rebecca Salome Foster, one of the most famous "an 
gels" doing welfare work at the Tombs, when she opined that it was 
the white man who had driven Lee Ah Bow over the edge. 

In any event, with the passing years Lee Ah Bow s madness 
became more pronounced. When the Hudson River night boat 
played its searchlight on the prison, Lee Ah Bow would beat on the 
bars of his cell and scream, "Here comes my diamond." An asylum 
report reads: "He believes that he has grand hotels, palaces, serv 
ants, and horses outside the asylum; that he is King of the World 
and Omnipotent; the Second God; commands the Wind and the 
Sun; that Tom Sharkey and General Goxey are his military staff 
and that he must suffer for Ireland." Clearly, Lee Ah Bow had his 
finger on most of the ills of the world. 

When he died in 1912 he was believed to have been 98 years 
of age. His body was unclaimed and he was buried on the asylum 

Monk, Maria (1817-1849) 


When in January 1836 a young, earnest-looking, beautiful girl of 
19 arrived in New York City in the company of a Canadian clergy 
man, the Reverend W. K. Hoyt, religious passions in America were 
to be stirred up to the equal perhaps of the Salem witchcraft mad 
ness of a century and a half earlier, The girl s name was Maria 
Monk, and she was as compulsive and as nasty a little fibber as 
Salem s Ann Putnam. Maria comes down to us as one of the greatest 
religious hoaxers in our history. 

She may well have been induced to such activities by the prom 
ise of fame and fortune, but above all she was a pathological liar. 

Monk, Maria 101 

Her mother, who was to denounce her daughter s vicious anti-Cath 
olic crusade, declared in an affidavit that her daughter at the age 
of seven had jammed a slate pencil through her head. This, Mrs. 
Monk stated, caused Maria to have frequent headaches and led her 
to constantly tell whopping lies. She had gone into service as a 
housemaid but had lost several positions because she made up ter 
rific tales that drove her employers to distraction. 

These facts would come out later; but in the 1830s young Maria 
became the focal point for American Protestants ready to accept 
the worst possible facts about the awfulness of popery. Maria was 
indeed to have a powerful impact on the emotional outlet that later 
became known as Know-Nothingism. 

Reverend Hoyt freely informed all who would listen that he 
had saved poor Maria from a "life of Sin" in the famous, or as he 
and Maria told it, the infamous Hotel Dieu nunnery in Montreal. 
That was not quite accurate. Maria herself later stated their first 
meeting had occurred at a street corner where certain amorous and 
monetary discussions were carried out in centuries-old fashion. 

Still, Maria spun out a wild tale of her years as a novice and 
nun at the Hotel Dieu, and Reverend Hoyt enthusiastically tran 
scribed them, adding an embellishment here and there to further 
his view of the divine line. 

In New York the clergyman raised funds that allowed for the 
publication of the girl s story under the title of The Awful Disclosures 
of Maria Monk, as scurrilous a book as ever published in North 
America. According to Maria s shocking charges, the remote cellars 
of the nunnery were little different than sex clubs of today, except 
of course that all the swingers were Catholic ecclesiastics. She said 
the sisters were visited nightly by priests from a neighboring mon 
astery who reached the cellars through convenient subterranean 
passages. According to Maria, through the years some nuns who 
had pledged their love to Jesus alone had resisted the amorous and 
often abusive advances of the priests, and their bones were strewn 
in graves in deep basement recesses. 

Maria had traveled to New York with a tiny tot in her arms 
whose birth, she averred, traced to those nocturnal visits from the 
clerics. Later, journalistic and Canadian governmental investiga 
tions produced rather strong evidence that poor Maria simply had 
trouble discerning between variously garbed gentlemen. She had 
been involved, although not in the nunnery, with a black-garbed 
Montreal policeman. 

However, even when such disclosures surfaced, the "true be 
lievers" were not dissuaded, so ingrained was the will to believe the 

102 Monk, Maria 

worst of Catholicism. Maria and Reverend Hoyt gained Dr. W. C. 
Brownlee, and the organization he headed, the Society for the Dif 
fusion of Christian Knowledge, as sponsors of their book. Dr. 
Brownlee was pastor of the Collegiate Dutch Reformed Church. He 
embraced The Awful Disclosures since it confirmed his own opinions 
expressed in his militantly anti-Catholic bestseller, Popery. 

Naturally, he viewed Maria as little short of an angel, and he 
gave her refuge in his own house under the ministrations of his 
wife. This was to lead to the first split between Maria and the 
Reverend Mr. Hoyt, who denounced her as a "damned jilting jade." 

It could well be that the differences between Hoyt and Brown 
lee were contentious over the matter of money rather than Maria 
herself. Almost instantly her book sold 20,000 copies, an incredible 
sale for the era. Grist for antipapists were her awesome charges that 
one nun s punishment for a minor infraction was to be stretched 
out on a mattress, another mattress flung over her, and then to be 
stomped on by a priest and several nuns "until there were as many 
on the bed [mattress] as could find room, and all did what they 
could do, not only to smother but to bruise her. Some stood and 
jumped upon the poor girl with their feet: and others, in different 
ways seemed to seek how they might beat the breath out of her 
body." This went on for about 15 or 20 minutes, until the priests 
and the nuns tired themselves out. "They then began to laugh. . . ." 

Certainly avid Protestants nodded in agreement when the au 
thoress assured them "speedy death can be no great calamity to 
thouse who lead the lives of nuns." Maria also issued a challenge 
that she would go to the Hotel Dieu "with some impartial ladies and 
gentlemen, that they may compare my account with the interior 
parts of the building, and if they do not find my description true, 
then discard me as an impostor." 

The challenge was not taken up, but in time Maria s continued 
wild tales planted doubts among even her firmest adherents. In 
Montreal, Maria s mother denounced her daughter as worthless 
and denied she had ever entered a nunnery. She said the Reverend 
Mr. Hoyt had offered her $500 in 1835 to state her daughter had 
entered a nunnery, but she had refused. Eventually even Dr. 
Brownlee decided Maria was an incorrigible liar, a conclusion per 
haps reinforced when she decamped with his young clergyman 
protege, John J, L. Slocum, who became what was called Maria s 
"next friend." 

For a minister of the gospel, Slocum proved to be a tough- 
minded businessman. Late in 1836 he sued Harpers , the publish 
ers of the book, for Maria s share of the royalties, all of which had 

Monk, Maria 103 

found their way into the coffers of the Society for the Diffusion of 
Christian Knowledge. 

When the case came to trial, it proved a disaster for Slocum 
and Maria. Her entire story was exposed as a fraud. It was shown 
that she had served several terms in reformatories, and that she 
had started telling her "escape from a nunnery" as a way to earn a 
little extra money from street-corner clients. It turned out that 
Maria s tale, even with its embellishments by Hoyt, had not been 
enough for members of the Society for the Diffusion of Christian 
Knowledge; a Theodore D wight had been engaged to put in some 
added chilling details. Dwight was knowledgeable in Spanish, Ital 
ian, German, and French, and he dug up all he could find of bizarre 
charges made in Europe about convents and torture, and he added 
them to Maria s text. 

The New York Herald ordered Maria s followers: "Ye withering 
fingers of scorn, unskin yourselves at once." And the Commercial 
Advertiser announced: "MARIA MONK IS AN IMPOSTOR, AND 

While Dr. Brownlee disowned Maria, her book perversely con 
tinued to sell very well. In August 1837, Maria, who however had 
still got no monies for all her imposturing, turned up at the home 
of a Philadelphia clergyman, a Dr. Sleigh, who was a friend of Dr. 
Brownlee and apparently just as gullible. After swearing him to 
secrecy, Maria informed him that she had been kidnapped by a 
group of priests and held captive in a nearby convent. She had been 
able to get away, she said, only by conspiring with a priest to marry 

The result of all this was a sequel, Further Disclosures of Maria 
Monk. Sales, needless to say, were enormous. But if Maria main 
tained the ability to hoodwink supposedly learned men, she had no 
defenses of her own. Slocum welcomed her back to New York and 
conned her into signing over to him a number of rights to both her 
books. He immediately took off for London where he garnered a 
sizable fortune for himself marketing the foreign rights to the book. 

Once more Maria received not a penny. Dr. Sleigh meanwhile 
figured out that Maria was rather abnormal, and he issued a pam 
phlet attacking her. Maria had by this time run out of believers. She 
was soon on the Bowery, given over completely to drinking, whor 
ing, and telling anyone who would listen how she had been raped 
the other night by a holy father or two. The record shows that in 
1849 she was convicted of pickpocketing. When she died in jail a 
short time later, she was not even accorded an obituary by any of 

104 O Sullivan, Dennis 

the newspapers. Indeed her true identity did not become known 
for some time. 

However, Maria s hallucinations and lies have outlived her. The 
Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk is still available in all 300,000 cop 
ies have been sold and there are still those today who accept Ma 
ria s ravings as the true word. 

OMivaa Dennis (1818-1907) 


Dennis O Sullivan was the only Bowery bum to dine regularly at 
New York s Astor Hotel with the president of the United States. 
Whenever Ulysses S. Grant visited New York, he would invite his 
old friend, O Sullivan, to join him in that hostelry s hallowed dining 
room. This incongruous scene is perhaps best matched in fiction in 
The Prince and the Pauper. Presidential aides were dispatched to the 
lower Manhattan to find O Sullivan, which was not always an easy 

Grant and O Sullivan went back a long time, well before the 
Civil War, when the former ran a shop in St. Louis, Missouri. O 
Sullivan became a close friend of Grant, whose military career at 
the time hardly looked promising. 

At the beginning of the Civil War, O Sullivan cast his lot with 
the Confederacy and was assigned to General Robert E. Lee s staff. 
Later he was taken prisoner by the Union Army. After his capture, 
O Sullivan switched and became an ardent supporter of the North. 
He was permitted to join the Union Army. Captured by the Confed 
erates, he was sent to Andersonville prison where he finished out 
the war. 

Unlike most other returning veterans, O Sullivan s life did not 
improve over the postwar period. He started on a long slide that 
ended with him living in the "Flea Bag," as New York s chief lodging 
house was called because of its unsanitary conditions. O Sullivan 
lived in the Flea Bag by choice. During Grant s presidential years, 
he was said to have declined Grant s many offers to help him. He 

Norton, Joshua A. 1 05 

would however trek uptown to see the president and dine in the 
elegant surroundings of the Astor. It was quite a moment for the 
man whose Bowery friends called him the "Penny Plug," because 
he could never afford to buy more than a penny plug of tobacco. 

The dinners were heartwarming events for both men, and O J - 
Sullivan never forgot courtesy and always addressed Grant as "Mr. 
President." After the meal and some recollections of the good old 
days, O Sullivan bade farewell and shuffled off by foot for his home 
far down on Park Row. 

He died in 1907 at the age of 89. 

Norton, Joshua A. (1819-1880) 


English-born Joshua Norton migrated to San Francisco in 1849 and 
became a highly successful real-estate broker and speculator. How 
ever, within 10 years, he saw his quarter-million-dollar fortune dis 
sipated in bad deals, and he was relegated to working in a Chinese 
rice factory, living in a seedy rooming house. His turn of fortune 
affected his mind, and he told anyone who listened that only an 
emperor with full imperial powers could save the country. Finally 
one day in September 1859, he delivered the following announce 
ment to the San Francisco Bulletin: 

At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority 
of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, . . . 
declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these United States; 
and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby 
order and direct the representatives of the different states of 
the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the first 
day of February next, then and there to make such alterations 
in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils 
under which the country is laboring and thereby cause confi 
dence to exist, both at home and abroad, both in our stability 
and in our integrity. 

106 Norton, Joshua A. 

San Franciscans took to their hearts 
mad Joshua Norton, who, in 1859, 
proclaimed himself Norton I, 
Emperor of the United States. 

He signed the communication as "Norton I, Emperor of the 
United States and Protector of Mexico." 

The newspaper gleefully printed the decree without comment, 
and Norton s fame was instant. He was accepted by San Franciscans 
with grace as their new-found eccentric, the citizens having a zeal 
for such types as is more commonly ascribed to the English. 

Norton I promptly consolidated his power by dissolving both 
political parties and the Republic, but he soon made it clear he 
intended to be a benign ruler. For 21 years Norton I was perhaps 
the city s best-known citizen. He wore a blue military uniform with 
gold-plated epaulets given to him by U.S. Army officers of the post 
of the Presidio; he wore also a beaver hat bearing a feather and a 
rosette. He always carried an umbrella and a cane. When his outfit 
turned shabby, the city s Board of Supervisors, with much cere 
mony, appropriated money for a new one. Emperor Norton in turn 
elevated all the supervisors to noble rank. 

As emperor he attended all public functions and never missed 
a session of the state senate, where a chair was reserved for him. 

Corbett, Boston 107 

All transportation lines granted him free passes, and newspapers 
published without charge all his royal decrees. Norton I ate in what 
ever restaurant, hotel dining room, lunchroom, or saloon that 
struck his fancy, without paying, and exercised his royal prerogative 
of chewing out the waiter if the service was not up to his standards 
or the food not properly done. 

The emperor never wanted for cash, since he always carried 
50-cent bonds with him to sell to his subjects. At times he would 
visit a bank seeking to negotiate a loan of several million dollars, 
but he would leave satisfied, having signed a royal note for four or 
six bits. Additionally, there was not a merchant in the city who would 
refuse his 50-cent checks. For his part, Norton I judiciously spread 
the checks around widely; he believed strongly in equitable taxa 

When Norton died in 1880, the San Francisco Chronicle head 
lined the event: "LE ROI EST MORT." He was given a lavish fu 
neral, one of the largest ever held in San Francisco, with 10,000 
mourners lining the funeral route. A millionaires club picked up 
the tab. 

Corbett Boston Q8Z2-?) 


In the various conspiracy theories regarding the murder of Abra 
ham Lincoln, which all go far beyond the vengeance plot by John 
Wilkes Booth and a handful of sympathizers, Boston Corbett is a 
central figure. A sergeant in the Union Army in 1865, Corbett, 
contrary to orders, shot and killed Booth, who was trapped in a 
burning tobacco barn in Virginia. Conspiracy addicts saw this, not 
as the act of a twisted mind, but the move of a dutiful assassin 
following the orders of higher-ups, especially Secretary of War 
Edwin Stanton. 

It is difficult to imagine a character as unstable as Corbett 
being a dependable cog in any coherent conspiracy. He believed he 
took orders directly from the Almighty. Thus he marched to a 
different drummer, gorily so, one might add. In 1858 Corbett, a 

108 Corbett, Boston 

Overruling the orders of his superiors were the orders Boston Corbett received from the 
Almighty to shoot the sinful among them John Wilkes Booth. (National Archives) 

hatrnaker in his premilitary days, was accosted by a pair of street 
walkers. It is unclear whether he succumbed to their blandishments 
or simply feared in the future that he might. A conversation with 
the Creator showed him the way to salvation: Corbett castrated 
himself, thus foiling lust s temptations. 

At the onset of the Civil War, Corbett enlisted in the Union 
Army. According to his military comrades, he was an odd soldier 
indeed, given to suddenly erupting in religious hymns or else 
spending hours staring at lights in the sky, which others developed 
eyestrain trying to see. In combat, however, Corbett proved to be a 
fighting machine. In the engagement at Culpeper Courthouse, he 
was said to have held more than two dozen Confederates at bay 
single-handedly before finally being taken prisoner. Five grueling 
months at the Confederate prison at Andersonville probably did 
little to improve his rationality, and when he was involved in a pris 
oner exchange, one must assume the Rebels felt they had struck a 
good bargain indeed. 

Corbett was assigned to one of the many detachments search 
ing for Booth, after the assassination of Lincoln in April 1865. On 
April 26, Union troopers, including Corbett, under the command 
of Lieutenant Baker, cornered Booth and David Herold in a to 
bacco-curing barn near Fort Royal, Virginia. Herold, castigated by 
Booth, surrendered, but the assassin refused to leave the barn un- 

Bourglay, Jules 109 

less the troopers pulled back 100 yards, saying that then "I will 
come out and fight you." 

Baker rejected the offer and, ordering his men not to shoot 
Booth under any circumstances, had the structure set on fire. 

Boston Corbett decided such orders could not apply to him as 
"the Avenger of Blood," as he was later to call himself. The troopers 
could see a dark figure hobbling about inside the barn. Suddenly, 
there was a shot some say by Booth himself, but most, including 
Corbett, say it was by the wild-eyed sergeant. Soldiers rushed into 
the barn and pulled Booth outside, where he soon died. Boston 
Corbett rejoiced, unconcerned that he had broken discipline. 

After testifying at the assassination trial, Corbett took to the 
public appearance circuit, billing himself as the Avenger of Blood. 
However, his lectures proved less than a total success; he often 
digressed from the stated subject, the pursuit of Booth, to impart 
to his audience caustic messages and insults from God. 

In the 1880s he was pensioned off by the Kansas legislature, 
which named him a doorkeeper. Corbett soon came to see these 
politicians as rogues disobeying the will of God. One spring day in 
1886 he fired two revolvers into the crowded assembly. Somehow, 
no fatalities resulted and Corbett was hauled off to the Topeka 
Asylum for the Insane. 

It did not take long for Corbett to escape from the asylum, 
leaving behind a letter addressed to the American public, complain 
ing of their ingratitude for the services he had rendered. 

Nothing more was ever heard of him. 

Bourglay, Jules (c.1824-1889) 


In the late 1880s he was the East s most famous wanderer, endlessly 
trudging a penitential 360-mile circle of rural Connecticut and New 
York areas. He completed the circuit every 34 days doing better 
than 10 miles per day year in and year out for some 32 years. 
Clad head to toe in leather, which he had fashioned into wearing 
apparel, he was a truly bizarre sight as he made his virtually word- 

110 Bourglay. Jules 

Jules Bourglay, the Old Leather Man, 
wandered the East in a full suit of 
leather clothes his protest of a long 
lost love. 

less trek, an apparent act of penance for a business failure. His 
round-visored hat, his coat, and his trousers were laced together 
from such discarded leather as bootlegs and heavy soles; all frag 
ments were held in place with thongs at one-inch intervals. The 
trousers were stuffed into high leather boots with wooden soles. 
Over this outfit he wore his patchwork leather coat, wide-pocketed 
and loose, which hung to his knees. 

He wore this outfit winter and summer. In the warmer months, 
the outfit literally creaked like a harness. He refused any offers of 
other clothing, but he did accept pieces of leather, which he would 
then fasten to thongs, to save for when he had repair work to do. 

He is still remembered in this century. Boy and girl scouts have 
long been taken on annual Leather-Man hikes, visiting caves where 
he rested, being told the Leather Man s story around a campfire. 

For many years his identity was unknown; he was, for a time, 
called the French Leather Man, because he spoke that language 
fluently while only speaking a few words of English. In time, how 
ever, it was learned that his name was Jules Bourglay or Bourlay. 

His history, pieced together from small snatches he revealed to 

Bourglay, Jules 111 

a few listeners, was that he had as a youth fallen in love with a 
French girl, Marguerite Laron, whose father was a wealthy leather 
merchant in Lyons. Although Jules had an excellent liberal educa 
tion, he was considered by Papa Laron to have come from too low a 
station for marriage into his family. However, the merchant finally 
agreed to take him into the business, to let him prove himself. 
If successful, he would be given new consideration as a potential 

Jules grasped the business quickly, and Mr. Laron was soon 
satisfied enough to allow him to handle the firm s investments. 
Seeking to impress his potential father-in-law, Jules invested heavily 
in leather, only to be caught in a sudden drop in the market. The 
company was almost destroyed. 

Jules life fell apart. Laron dismissed him and forbade the mar 
riage. The young man s mind became affected, and he wandered 
through the streets of Lyons, cursing himself for his foolhardy 
business acts. His mind became deranged, and he was eventually 
confined to a monastery. He escaped after some months and even 
tually made his way to America. 

There, he took up vagrancy as his penance for his ruin. In a 
period of a little over a month, he traveled his fixed route between 
the Connecticut and Hudson rivers. The northernmost point was 
Harwinton, Connecticut, from which he headed southeast through 
Burlington, Forestville, Southington, and other towns. After trav 
ersing a corner of Middletown, he followed the Connecticut River 
to its mouth at Saybrook. Then his path turned west through West- 
brook and several other communities to Guilford. He skirted the 
city of New Haven and again emerged at the coast at Milford, then 
on he moved through Stratford, northern Bridgeport, Fairfield, 
and Westport. Eventually he reached Wilton and crossed into New 
York, passing Croton Falls to Ossining and veering north to Peeks- 
kill. After hitting Shrub Oak and Brewster, he reentered Connect 
icut near Ball Pond and moved through a number of towns again, 
the last of which were Watertown, Thomaston, and Plymouth. He 
completed the circuit at Harwinton. 

The Hartford Globe and other newspapers published maps 
showing his itinerary, and it became important local news whenever 
the Leather Man fell behind schedule. Probably thousands of school 
compositions have been written about him. Writer Lawrence Treat 
did a mystery story about him, titling it "The Leather Man"; picture 
postcards of the Leather Man still grace many family albums. 

He slept in caves or built lean-tos of brush against an overhang 
ing rock. There are in Connecticut any number of his resting points 

112 Bourglay, Jules 

known today as the Leather Man s Cave; and it is still possible to 
find railroad ties bound together in some obscure copse, the last 
traces of one of Jules* rude huts. 

The Leather Man s insistence on wearing nothing but leather 
probably was a bitter mockery of his own past, but he never dis 
played any signs of violence or anger. Even when youngsters 
dogged his trail, he tended merely to ignore them. Childish minds 
eventually developed a certain respect for him, and he was never 
subjected to teasing or rock throwing. A contemporary account 
notes: "He never begged for food, but as the years went by, he 
picked one or two homes in each village where he could go unmo 
lested for food and tobacco. He never entered a house, never re 
turned if he was questioned, never took any money or worked for 
what he got." 

The Leather Man also never appropriated fruit or vegetables 
from the gardens he passed. He would knock on a kitchen door 
where he knew by tacit understanding that food would always be 
provided. When the door opened, Jules would put his finger to his 
mouth and mumble, "Piece to eat," exhausting much of what he 
knew in English. He sat on a bench by the door until the food was 
set down by him. He could never be induced to enter the house. 
Whatever he didn t eat, he stuffed in his pockets and moved on. 

Usually he ignored efforts of people to communicate with him, 
although from time to time he would mention a bit out of his past; 
hence came the tale of his fall from grace in France. Naturally this 
tale had its variations. There was a version that made him a veteran 
of the Napoleonic Wars, who had been trying to blot out the horror 
of his remembrances ever since. Another had him as the sole sur 
vivor of a burglary gang that had ravaged Connecticut. The New 
York Times once published an account that came partly from "words 
told a Yale professor who got him to talk." It went: 

When a young man he fell in love with a girl employed in 
a leather manufactory near Marseilles and owned by her fa 
ther. The father opposed the match. The girl rejected the 
proposals of a dishonorable alliance with the son made by the 
parents. The girl disappeared. The young man became con 
vinced there had been foul play and eventually that the girl 
had been murdered through the machinations of his parents. 
He then left home and his country and never let his friends 
hear from him. Frequent publications of his regular route and 
punctual appearance at designated points came to the atten 
tion of his brothers. His identity was absolutely established. 

Johnston, John 113 

He would not quit his vagrant life that he followed so persis 
tently as a sort of expiation for the crime he believed his father 
had [committed] or had someone else commit. 

Most locals disputed that version as the uninformed prattle of 
outsiders. They preferred their own Lyons story. 

The blizzard of 1888 doomed the Leather Man. He was then 
about 65 years old, and more than three decades of wandering had 
taken its toll. Caught in the snow near Hartford, he suffered frost 
bite in his extremities. He was taken to a hospital but he escaped a 
few hours later. It was announced that the Leather Man was also 
suffering from an advanced case of cancer. People all along his 
route watched for him. By intuition, the Leather Man altered his 
travel pattern. In March 1889, a New York farmer spotted him and 
invited him to spend the night in his barn, but the Leather Man, 
gaunt and white, pressed on through the snows. He made it to one 
of his rock shelters near Briarcliff, New York, on the farm of 
George Dell. There, on March 24, 1889, his lifeless body was found. 

He was buried in Sparta Cemetery, on Route 9 between Briar- 
cliff and Ossining. His grave was marked by an iron bar stuck in 
the ground. His suit was for many years exhibited in the Eden 
Musee in New York, while the leather bag was given to the Con 
necticut Historical Society. 

The Leather Man remained a popular figure, even in death. 
Indeed he was given no rest from his wanderings. The New York 
Daily News once headlined a story: "Saw The Leather Man s Ghost." 
It reported that a farmer named Clematis Sorrel had come across 
the Leather Man gathering dry sticks, apparently for a fire in his 
cave. "Mr. Sorrel is not a drinking man," the story added. 

Johnston, John (1826?-1900) 


One of the more storied characters of the Old West, John Johnston 
has been immortalized in a number of Hollywood westerns. How 
ever, the movies have tended to make him a bit more wholesome 
than he really was. Always, Johnston is portrayed as a vengeance- 
seeking buckaroo who, in his vendetta against Indians, did some- 

1 1 4 Johnston, John 

thing awful, such as collect their scalps or some such thing. In real 
life, Johnston did nothing of the kind. What he really did was kill 
Crow Indians, an estimated 250 to 300 in his lifetime, and cut them 
open to feast on their livers. Hence, he was known as "Liver-Eating" 

A normal enough trapper and trader in the 1840s, Johnston, 
who sometimes allowed that he was born in New Jersey in 1826 
although he could have been at least 10 years older was trading 
and trapping along the Shoshone River in what is now Wyoming. 
He took himself a "bride," a beautiful Chinook Indian. One day 
while Johnston was away from their cabin, Crow Indians attacked 
and killed his wife who was then about six months pregnant. 

The tragedy, not surprisingly, unhinged Johnston, and he be 
gan exacting vengeance by killing Crow Indians. Other westerners 
did not find this surprising, and they would indeed have under 
stood if he had also lifted his victims scalps for good measure. 
Instead, he feasted on their livers. No one knew any explanation 
for this odd behavior. It didn t seem to represent any sort of strange 
"medicine" in Indian lore. But other whites tolerated his behavior, 
simply providing him with the appropriate sobriquet. 

In 1861 Abaroka Dapiek, or Crow Killer as Johnston was called 
by the Indians, was captured by some Blackfeet who figured he 
would bring a good supply of ponies from the Crow Indians, but 
Johnston escaped by killing his guard. Because he figured he would 
have trouble scouring up food on the run, he cut off one of the 
Indian s legs to provide his ration. Thus, no matter how one looked 
at it, Liver-Eating Johnston was quite a cannibal. Still, none of this 
hurt Johnston s career, and he served with the Union during the 
Civil War as a scout, afterward holding several lawman posts. Of 
course, whenever he saw a Crow, he would revert back to his liver- 
eating propensities. Those historically minded souls who kept track 
of such matters put his total kills in the mid- to high-200s. 

In the 1880s, when Johnston was getting along in years, he 
made peace with the Crow Indians. True, he was slowing up by then 
and perhaps some Crows might have gotten him first, but the In 
dians figured it was best to make peace. They ensured Johnston s 
friendship by taking him into the tribe as blood brother of one of 
the chiefs. Thus, Johnston finished out his years quietly as a peace 
officer and army scout. He died in his bed in California in 1900. In 
1969, after a popular campaign, Johnston s body was moved from 
a California veterans cemetery to a burial site along the banks of 
the Shoshone River in Wyoming. It was fitting, most felt. A man 
should finish up where he did most of his life s eating. 

Train, George Francis I 15 

Train, George Francis (1829-1904) 

Although orphaned at the age of three and receiving only a mini 
mum of formal education, George Francis Train garnered a for 
tune of some $30 million in shipping and real estate by the age of 
30, He then spent the rest of his life going from riches to rags as 
the self-proclaimed Champion Crank of America. 

He wrote some ten books (not particularly renowned for their 
lucidity), made two celebrated trips around the world, took part in 
many countries political disputes (for which he served a total of 15 

Riches-to-rags, raconteur-to-recluse, George Francis Train is perhaps the most colorful 
unsuccessful presidential candidate in U.S. history. (Library of Congress) 

1 16 Train, George Francis 

sentences, including almost facing a firing squad for joining the 
French Communards in their revolt against the Third Republic), 
and helped promote the Union Pacific Railroad through the noto 
rious Credit Mobilier scheme. Train escaped much public censure 
for that scandal, already being regarded as an irresponsible eccen 
tric or, as abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison once described him, 
"a crack-brained harlequin and semi-lunatic." 

While doing time in a Dublin jail cell for involvement in the 
Irish emancipation movement, Train decided he was just what the 
United States needed for president. "I am," he announced, "that 
wonderful, eccentric, independent, extra-ordinary genius and po 
litical reformer of America, who is sweeping off all the politicians 
before him like a hurricane, your modest, diffident, unassuming 
friend, the future President of America George Francis Train." It 
was not an offer the British could refuse; they released him post 
haste and packed him on a clipper for the States. 

Train made over 1,000 speeches in quest of the presidency. He 
had little trouble financing his campaign, hitting on the novel idea 
of charging admission to his political lectures, an engaging bit of 
lunacy that entranced the voting public. When the votes were 
counted in 1872 however, Train came in last, even behind prohibi 
tionist James Black and free-love feminist Victoria Woodhull. How 
ever, thanks to his speeches for pay, his campaign ended up an 
impressive $90,000 in the black. 

In the midst of the campaign, Train took time out to make a 
lightning-fast trip around the world, a voyage that was to so impress 
science-fiction writer Jules Verne that he used it as a model for 
Phileas Fogg s exploits in Around the World in Eighty Days. 

In 1873 Train came to the aid of his former rival Victoria 
Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claffin, when they were ar 
rested for publicizing the scandalous details of the Reverend Henry 
Ward Beecher s adulterous affair with Elizabeth Tilton. Train is 
sued a newspaper of his own, called The Train Ligne, and published 
several columns of sexy quotations from the Old Testament. He 
declared, "Every verse I used was worse than anything published 
by these women." 

The bluenoses of the day agreed. They had him arrested and 
charged with obscenity. For this offense and irrational acts in his 
political campaign, Train was labeled insane and found not respon 
sible for his deeds. Set free, Train protested his treatment by leav 
ing the jail unclad save for an umbrella. 

In the aftermath of the legal proceedings, virtually all of his 
vast holdings in real estate were left tied up. Train became embit- 

Helper, Hinton Rowan 117 

tered toward mankind, although he continued to do things that 
held the public in awe. In 1890 he once more circled the globe, this 
time to put female journalist Nellie Ely in her place: she had estab 
lished a circumnavigational record of 72 days, six hours, and 1 1 
minutes. Train s new mark he kept the time meticulously was 67 
days, 13 hours, three minutes, and three seconds. 

During the next 14 years of his life, Train s behavior turned 
more bizarre. He refused to speak to or shake hands with old ac 
quaintances, simply shaking hands with himself in acknowledge 
ment of them. Then he more or less stopped talking to adult men 
and women, and he lost all interest in living well or in money in 
general, although he could probably have rewon his fortune. 

He lived out his days in a $3-a-week room in the Mills Hotel in 
New York City and preferred to spend his time telling stories to 
children. Two years before he died in January 1904, he deigned to 
dictate his autobiography. It took him 35 hours. 

Helper, Hition Dowan (1829-1909) 

Ironically, one of the most virulent and certainly one of the most 
explosive antislavery books in U.S. history was written by an anti- 
black eccentric, Hinton Rowan Helper. Helper was more than a bit 
deranged, a condition that worsened steadily through the years. 

A North Carolinian who answered unsuccessfully the call of 
the California Gold Rush in 1850, Helper turned to writing. He 
made very little splash with his works until he wrote The Impending 
Crisis of the South: How to Meet It Sometimes described, while yet in 
his twenties, as a tall, bleak man, Helper developed an odd thesis 
that mixed hardheaded reality with bigotry. His book, which in its 
day produced a far greater sensation than Uncle Tom s Cabin, caused 
men to be hanged for mere possession of it, as well as book burn 
ings, court trials, and fisticuffs on the floor of the U.S. House of 
Representatives . 

Helper insisted that slavery was a political and economic hin- 

1 18 Helper, Hinton Rowan 

drance that had brought and would continue to bring financial and 
moral ruin to the white South; it had to be abolished. However, he 
could not be accused of being soft on blacks, favoring as he did 
their complete expulsion from the country. Hopes for the achieve 
ment of that end, as much as the destruction of slavery, led him to 
advocate armed revolt by the slaves. The appearance of the book 
made Helper one of the most hated men in the South (for safety s 
sake he had moved to New York before publication). Most Southern 
states banned the book and subjected owners of it to stiff jail terms. 
Many persons were punished, and many more were the victims of 
vicious beatings. In Arkansas alone three men were lynched for the 
mere possession of copies. 

In the North ardent abolitionists preferred to ignore the racial 
hatreds Helper espoused and, in 1859, a fund was raised for the 
printing of 100,000 copies of it for use by the Republicans in the 
elections of the following year. The book caused physical turmoil 
and, at one point, a near-riot in the House of Representatives. Re 
publican John Sherman s endorsement of Crisis led to his defeat for 
speaker of the House, arousing secessionist sentiments among 
Southern members to fever pitch, becoming a powerful contribut 
ing cause of the Civil War. 

In 1861 Abraham Lincoln appointed Helper consul at Buenos 
Aires, Argentina, which had the effect of removing him from the 
domestic political scene. After the war Helper returned to the U.S. 
and took up his old campaign, which, with slavery eliminated, fo 
cused completely on near-psychotic antiblack positions. In three 
books, Nojoque, Negroes in Negroland, and Noonday Exigencies, he fu 
riously denounced blacks as being a continued menace to the South 
and to white labor. He declared specifically that his purpose was 
"to write the negro out of America . . . and out of existence." 

As he traveled about the country, he would ask, upon entering 
a hotel or restaurant, if any blacks were employed there. If so, he 
marched out and sought other accommodations. Helper did this 
for the rest of his life, but as his odd behavior increased, a new 
monomania occupied his time. He saw himself as "the new Chris 
topher Columbus" and tirelessly promoted the idea of building a 
railroad from Hudson Bay to the Strait of Magellan. He wrote 
thousands of letters, petitioned Congress, and made personal ap 
peals to hundreds of financiers and other giants of industry. He 
never could produce any convincing need for the project other than 
his own desire to be recognized as another Columbus. 

He had garnered a considerable fortune from Crisis, but his 
last years were spent in bitter privation as he sacrificed family, for- 

Allen, John 119 

tune, and comfort for his dream. Bitter and despondent, he com 
mitted suicide in a seedy Washington hotel in 1909. Obituaries 
spoke of him as a man with a touch of genius akin to madness. 

Allen. John (c.1830-?) 


In his own way, spunky little John Allen, a dance-house (i.e., 
brothel) operator in New York City in the mid- 19th century could 
be decribed as the Jekyll and Hyde of sex. The press of his day 
labeled him the "Wickedest Man in New York." His brothel may 
have made him deserving of the sobriquet, but there was more 
about Allen that singled him out for contempt. It was his back 
ground. He was a former seminary student whose pious family 
included three clergyman brothers, in whose steps he refused to 
follow, preferring the ways and rewards of the flesh. 

Nevertheless, if Allen eschewed the religious road, he compul 
sively continued to spread the gospel in his own peculiar way. Al 
len s establishment sported a holy aura never found in any other 
pesthole of vice in America. Before the place opened for business 
each afternoon, Allen gathered his harlots in the saloon section and 
read to them, as well as to the musicians, bouncers, and bartenders, 
selections from the Scriptures. This would be followed by a hymn- 
singing session at which the most popular song was "There is Rest 
for the Weary," a comforting thought for the girls. 

Customers and patrons who accompanied the girls to the spe 
cial cubicles in back found the sparsely furnished rooms supplied 
with numerous religious tracts and a Bible. Allen would reward 
regular clients with gifts of the New Testament. 

Needless to say, the press and police were bewildered by Allen s 
incongruous behavior. In that, they were probably no worse off 
than Mrs. Allen, a hardened biddy who feared the possibility of her 
husband turning his back on business and returning to the cloth. 
That never happened. Just when it seemed about to happen (espe 
cially when he threw his establishment open to evangelists), Allen 

120 Allen, John 


John Allen, the Jekyll and Hyde of the New York sex scene, conducted daily prayer 
meetings for the staff of his highly successful dance hall-brothel. 

would be arrested on some charge robbing a patron, suspicion of 
murder and the threat would fade. 

Eventually though, business declined precipitously at John Al 
len s Dance House; the criminal elements felt they just couldn t trust 
a religious eccentric. The establishment was shuttered, and Allen 
and his wife faded away. Naturally, the story spread that he did, 
after all, go back to the church, becoming a respected and trusted 
preacher in some distant community. Another story had it that he 
was off in the wilds of mid-America, still playing the flesh trade. 

More likely, Allen did neither. Being torn as always by the twin 
drives of piety and greed, he probably just retired on the huge 
fortune he had acquired. 

Bolton, Charles E. 121 

Black Bart (Charles E. Bolton) (1830-?) 

Is it a contradiction in terms to describe a man as both as eccentric 
and one of the most successful outlaws in the Old West? The answer 
is no, as it applies to Black Bart. In fact, the eccentric manner in 
which he went about his tasks accounted in large measure for his 
success. Bart has been aptly described by biographers as a great 
walker. There were not many stagecoach robbers who operated 
sans horse, and many a posse that pursued Black Bart went off in 
the fruitless following of horse-hoof tracks, ignoring, if they even 
noticed, any human footprints. 

In short, Black Bart was a bizarre square peg who got away 
with exploits not even a Jesse James would have dared pull all 
because of the sheer unconventionality of his acts. A bandit, every 
one knew, was to be a shoot- em-up hell-raiser who would as soon 
kill a man as look at him. Black Bart was cut from different wood. 
True, he often carried a shotgun (when he didn t just fake a weapon 
with a stick from a manzanita bush), but he would never dream of 
loading it. And, true to his own code, he never took any money or 
valuables from stagecoach driver or passengers. The Wells Fargo 
box was all he wanted before sending the coach on its way. On the 
spot, Bart would smash open the treasure box, wrap its gold in his 
pack, and trek off. In a short time the law would be at the scene of 
the crime. They would ride off hard following likely horse tracks. 
Bart was shrewd enough to pick spots with fresh hoofprints, to 
oblige the law as much as he could. 

If this modus operandi was not unconventional enough, Bart 
had a way of taunting the authorities and Wells Fargo with his 
"poStry," as he called it, leaving his unique verses at the scene of 
the crime. A typical one read: 

Here I lay me down to sleep 
To wait the coming morrow, 
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat 
And everlasting sorrow 

I ve labored long and hard for bred [sic] 
For honor and for riches 
But on rny corns too long you ve tred 
You fine-haired Sons of Bitches 

122 Bolton, Charles E. 

Let come what will, I ll try it on 
My condition can t be worse 
And if there s money in that box 
Tis munny [sic] in my purse. 

Black Bart, the Po-8. 

And another: 

This is my way to get money and bread, 
When I have a chance why should I refuse it. 
I ll not need either when I m dead, 
And I only tax those who are able to lose it. 

So blame me not for what I ve done, 
I don t deserve your curses; 
And if for some cause I must be hung, 
let it be for my verses. 

By most reliable count, Black Bart pulled 27 successful holdups 
in California from 1874 to 1883. Only once did a stagecoach get 
away; the fact that Bart s weapon was unloaded was excuse enough 
for failure. Bart s operation was simple. Wearing a duster and a 
flour-sack mask over his head, he would bound out of the bush 
onto the trail and shout to the stage driver, "Throw down your box 
or die." 

Occasionally, a driver hesitated obeying, and Bart would yell to 
his confederates in the bushes to start shooting unless the order 
was followed. The driver would see five or six rifles in the shadows 
and invariably did as he was told. Actually the rifles would be noth 
ing more than broomstick handles or stripped branches. Bart then 
scooped up his loot, deposited his doggerel for the law . . . 

I ll start out to-morrow 
With another empty sack. 
From Wells Fargo I will borrow 
But I ll never pay it back. 

. . . and started walking. 

Biographers have presented various theories regarding his 
background and history. The files of the Pinkertons indicate he was 
born in Jefferson County, New York, and that he went West when 
he was 10 years old. Other sources say he was born in Norfolk, 

Bolton, Charles E. 123 

England, and was brought to the St. Lawrence River s Thousand 
Islands area as a child. He served in the Union Army under the 
name of either Boles or Bolton, one of which was apparently his 
real name. 

In either case he was in California in the early 1870s, either 
laboring as a miner or as a schoolteacher in the Northern Mines 
area. We are indebted to grass-roots historian G. E. Dane for the 
information that, in any event, he loved a practical joke, and "it s 
only one step from that to crime." 

Indeed, Black Bart may well have started his robbery career as 
a prank. According to this legend, he was on his way home from 
school as night was falling when he heard the stage bucking the 
grade. He tied a handkerchief over his face and thought to throw a 
scare into the driver, Johnny Shine, whom he knew well. He broke 
off a stick from a manzanita bush at about pistol size and pounced 
out at the stage, announcing a robbery. 

"Throw out the box!" he yelled, and much to his surprise the 
driver obeyed. Bart was momentarily distracted when the box 
landed on the ground, and the frightened driver seized the oppor 
tunity to whip the horses and take off. 

The loot, Bart found, came to a few thousand dollars in bullion 
and dust, and he realized that in two minutes he had made more 
than he could in two years of honest labor. It is arithmetic like that, 
says our legend, which can lead a man astray. Black Bart was born 
that night. 

Under the name of Charles E. Bolton, Black Bart took up a 
new life in San Francisco, living in distinction, even dining at a 
fashionable restaurant near the Hall of Justice, and being on speak 
ing acquaintance with a number of detectives and prosecutors. 

And of course the robberies followed, one after another. Bart 
would traipse from the scene on foot, a typical route taking him to 
a rail line where he d catch a train either bound for San Francisco 
or going in the opposite direction, to Reno, where, after dallying a 
few days, he would finally head for the California city. On other 
occasions, though, Black Bart would set out to walk the entire way, 
stopping at isolated houses here and there, begging food. It was 
clear that Black Bart was an eccentric not entirely sure of his proper 

All things, at least good ones, must end and the finis to Black 
Bart s career came in November 1883, after a holdup that earned 
him almost $5,000. A rider came up during the robbery and fired 
at the outlaw, forcing Black Bart to leave quickly without so much as 

124 Bolton, Charles E. 

dropping his verse. He did however drop his handkerchief, and 
Wells Fargo detectives traced the laundry mark, EO.X. 7, until the 
trail led to a man named Charles E. Bolton in San Francisco. 

The San Francisco Bulletin reported the suspect to be "a distin 
guished-looking gentleman who walked erect as a soldier and car 
ried a gold-knobbed cane." Evidence to numerous robberies were 
found in Bolton s room, and he finally admitted he was Black Bart. 
He was sentenced to 8 to 10 years in prison, but with good behavior 
he was released in early 1888. 

A reporter at the prison gate asked him if he intended to 
return to crime. "I m through with all that now/ Black Bart replied. 

"Are you going to write any more poetry?" another asked. 

"Young man," Black Bart snapped, "didn t I tell you I wasn t 
going to commit any more crimes?" 

What happened to Bart after that is a mystery. According to 
Wells Fargo detectives he sailed off to Japan, But for years the old- 
timers in California told a different tale. Immediately on Black 
Bart s release, according to them, a new wave of robberies hit the 
stage line. This time however the unknown bandit left no verses 
behind. Still Wells Fargo recognized the technique of Black Bart. 
They located him and offered him a deal. He was getting up in 
years, they said, and ought to be thinking of retiring. Black Bart 
saw merit in the idea, and he allowed that he might consider it if he 
had some steady income. So eventually Charles E. Bolton went on 
the company s pension list at $200 a month. 

A crazy story? Perhaps, but hardly crazier than the whole ca 
reer of Black Bart, the Po-8. 

Walker, Dr. Mary 125 

Walker, Dr. Mary (1832-1919) 


A pioneer woman physician, Mary Walker was a flamboyant, often 
radical crusader for women s rights who at times even embarrassed 
other suffragettes by her mad acts. During the Civil War, fellow 
doctors refused at first to allow her to work as an army surgeon 
and relegated her to menial labors in the field as a "medical assist 
ant." However, she proved her bravery under fire, and at Gettys- 

A flamboyant and radical crusader for 
women s rights, Dr. Mary Walker 
managed to offend even fellow suf 
fragettes with her odd behavior, 
though her apparel became standard 
for women half a century later. 
(Library of Congress) 

126 Walker, Dr. Mary 

burg and other battlefields she saved the lives of hundreds of Union 
soldiers. She was accorded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the 
first and only woman ever to win the highest of all U.S. combat 
awards. Late in the war she was taken prisoner by the Confederates 
and held for months in notorious Libby Prison, until she was ex 
changed "man for man" for a Southern major. 

If Dr. Walker proved popular with the soldiers, she offended 
many important individuals with her attire. A "bloomer girl" in the 
early 1850s, she wore the costume introduced by Amelia Jenks 
Bloomer a knee-length, dark broadcloth tunic, gathered at the 
waist, over some loosely fitting pantaloons. 

"Why don t you wear proper clothing?" Major General William 
Tecumseh Sherman once demanded of her in the field. "That 
clothing is neither one thing nor the other." During the later stages 
of the war, she did partially bow to his admonition, donning the 
same uniform as the men. Later, by the 1870s, she wore a frock 
coat and trousers, and for lectures or night wear, male formal dress. 

Immediately after the war, her attire was so notorious that she 
was arrested on several occasions for "masquerading as a man." 
However, she was never prosecuted, since a grateful Congress had 
passed a special act granting her the right to wear trousers, in 
recognition of her wartime services. 

This did not still her critics. The newspapers referred to her as 
"America s Self-Made Man." One newspaper editorialized: "What 
must be demanded by all who have the interest of the Republic at 
heart is the refeminization of Dr. Walker. Her trousers must be 
taken from her where and how is, of course, a matter of detail." 
Dr. Walker saw to it that that never happened. 

She campaigned vigorously for women s rights the right to 
vote and, just as important to her, the right not to wear the "vile 
corset" and the hoop skirt, which she said was a fashion foisted on 
women by "the prostitutes of Paris" and their male clients. She 
offended many women by citing the age-old male line that their 
"immoral clothes" led to seduction and rape, and that women had 
to accept responsibility for that. Barrenness in women, she also 
insisted, was caused by the tight waistlines, which injured fallopian 
tubes, ovaries, and uteruses. 

With the passing years, she became more crotchety and strong- 
willed about getting her way, and she launched many odd cam 
paigns, including a Utopian colony for spinsters only. She was much 
upset by the "smoking mania" and the "nicotine evil," and so she 
carried a tightly furled umbrella with which she batted the offend 
ing cigarettes from the mouths of startled men. 

Walker, Dr. Mary 127 

In 1907, the Medal-of- Honor Board redesigned the medal and 
sent her a replacement. She wore both whenever she went out. 
Then in 1917, the board reversed itself and struck her name from 
the honored list, along with those of 911 others. It was ruled that 
the medal could only go to a member of the armed services who 
"in action involving actual combat with an enemy, distinguished 
himself conspicuously, at the risk of life, by gallantry and intrepidity 
above and beyond the call of duty." Infuriated, Dr. Walker refused 
to turn in her medals and continued to wear them to the end of 
her days. 

Retired from medical practice for many years, in order to de 
vote her full time to reform movements, Dr. Walker lived on fees 
from public appearances and lectures. At the age of 66, after much 
campaigning, she won a $20-a-month pension for her war services. 
Thereafter, despite her bouts with the Medal-of- Honor Board, she 
had considerable time to spend being a full-time crank. She was 
constantly involved in schemes that alienated her friends and neigh 
bors in Oswego, New York, where she lived on a farm. She once 
tried to implicate her hired man in a New Hampshire murder, 
apparently looking to collect a $5,000 reward. She started plans to 
turn her farm into a training school for young women. Near the 
end of World War I, she sent a long, garbled telegram to Kaiser 
Wilhelm of Germany, offering the farm as a peace-conference site. 

In early 1919, Dr. Walker took a nasty fall on the Capitol 
steps where she was once more petitioning Congress about her 
metal. She died on February 19. True to her words that the govern 
ment would not even get her medals back "over my dead body," she 
was buried with them pinned to her Prince Albert coat. 

Mary Walker did not live to get her medal back, and she died 
just before she would have enjoyed the right to vote. And it would 
take another half century before her costume became ordinary 
wear for women. 

128 Barter, Dick 

Barter, Dick (1834-1859) 


For rather unfathomable reasons, an Englishman named Richard 
Barter became one of the most vicious outlaws of the West if we 
judge by the dime novels of the era. These works gave such individ 
uals as Wild Bill Hickok, Belle Starr, Deadeye Dick, Calamity Jane, 
and others far more notoriety than they deserved. But in the case 
of Dick Barter make that Rattlesnake Dick Barter if you like your 
characters colorful it is a matter of fiction run absolutely amok. 

Rattlesnake Dick was the stuff satires are made of. If the West 
was wild and woolly, Barter was far more woolly than wild. His 
nickname of Rattlesnake was said to have sprung from the fact that 
he was so dangerous and devious; in actual fact, Dick, who came to 
America as a youth, got the moniker for having done a stint, during 
the California Gold Rush, looking for the precious metal in Rattle 
snake Bar. He was unsuccessful at it and, in fact, got out of the 
profession partly because of his unabiding fear of rattlesnakes. Be 
sides, he felt he could do much better stealing gold than digging 
for it. 

The legend-makers never note that he made no money out of 
his prospecting and precious little as an outlaw, netting less than 
$20 or so on any of his "monumental" holdups. 

His trouble was that, even for the West (where outlaws were not 
generally cut from high-I.Q. cloth), Rattlesnake Dick was a scatter- 
brain. But it must be admitted that even among his peers, before 
the dime novels, Barter enjoyed a handsome "rep" as a bad man; 
the only apparent reason for this was that he spoke with a distinct 
English accent and, as some of his contemporaries put it, "must be 
the smartest at evil doin s in these parts," because of it. 

Barter was a real master of planning. He would spy out the 
fact that a stagecoach was carrying a goodly amount of gold dust, 
celebrate by getting drunk, and then lead three colleagues in the 
stage robbery picking out the wrong coach. 

But to his credit, Barter did mastermind one "big one" the 
1856 $80,000 robbery of the Yreka Mine s mule train. Despite by 
then having suffered considerable loss of face concerning his crim 
inal prowess, he managed to round up a gang to help him. Barter 
had figured out how to rob a target long considered immune from 
attack by other genuine badmen. 

Barter, Dick 129 

The problem was that when the mules came down the moun 
tains with their loads, they would become so tired by the time they 
were halfway down that they had to be rested for a considerable 
period before they could continue. That meant robbers would have 
the same trouble with the pack animals, and pursuers would quickly 
catch up with them. 

Rattlesnake Dick figured out all he had to do was provide fresh 
mules on the mountain trail for his gang and they would get clean 
away. Among those who were impressed by the logic of Barter s 
plan were a pair of brothers, George and Cyrus Skinner. It was 
agreed that George would lead a number of gunmen on the actual 
robbery while Barter and Cy rounded up the extra mules and met 
them on the trail. There was a flaw in the plan, of course: the fact 
that Rattlesnake Dick played an important role in the caper. 

Barter and Cy had more than enough money to buy the mules 
needed but Rattlesnake Dick insisted they have a few drinks to 
celebrate in advance. The more they drank, the less they had to 
buy pack animals. So what, Rattlesnake Dick slurred. They were 
big-time outlaws and getting mules was no problem for gunnies like 
them. And so, late the night before the big robbery, the pair was 
behind bars, having been caught, dead drunk, trying to steal some 
Army mules. 

Meanwhile George Skinner and his boys executed their part of 
the job to perfection, spurring their animals on to the rendezvous 
point where no mules were waiting. Desperately, George Skinner 
buried most of the stolen nuggets and then rode off with his boys 
for the town of Folsom, still cursing that "crazy Britisher." 

Wells Fargo agents caught up with the gang in Folsom and shot 
them all dead, even George, who was in the bed of a screaming 
saloon girl. 

Meanwhile Rattlesnake Dick and Cy Skinner broke out of jail. 
It was not a particular cunning act; a guard had forgotten to lock 
their cell door. They went looking for the buried treasure but could 
not find it. 

There was only one thing to do, Rattlesnake Dick observed. 
They had to go back to the outlaw trail. So they pulled a few stage 
robberies. But after one that came to $18 $9 apiece Cy Skinner 
decided his late brother had been a shrewd judge of foreigners 
when he called the Britisher crazy. 

Rattlesnake Dick was now on his own. He pulled a few lone- 
handed, and unproductive, holdups. He always took care to wear a 
mask so he wouldn t be recognized. Of course, everyone recognized 
his British accent. Finally, in 1859 a pursuing posse gunned Rattle- 

130 Green, Hetty 

snake Dick to death, mercifully ending a most embarrassing crimi 
nal career. 

Greea Hetty (1834-1916) 


Henrietta Howland Robinson grew up to become the greatest 
American miser who ever lived. Her upbringing in a frugal New 
Bedford, Massachusetts, Quaker home undoubtedly helped. As a 
child she got an allowance of five cents a month and was much 
belabored if she spent so much as a penny of it instead of saving it. 
Such frugality seems to have had its rewards, however, for the Rob 
inson family s thrift enabled it to accumulate millions from its ship 
ping and whaling activities. By the time she was six years old, Hetty 
was sitting at her father s knee, reading the financial pages 
to him. 

Hetty grew into a rather handsome woman, but the family 
emphasis on thrift left her personal habits rather on the sloppy 
side. She dressed in rags and wore mismatched stockings. Turned 
off by this, several suitors dropped their pursuit of her. Hetty was 
not particularly upset; she had come to the conclusion that men 
were nothing but fortune hunters. 

Hetty s father died when she was 30, and she inherited a mil 
lion dollars outright as well as the income from several millions 
more, with the total capital to pass to her children. She later inher 
ited an additional million dollars from an aunt s estate. It was never 
determined if she was entitled to that money. There was consider 
able speculation that she may have used forged documents to win 
the inheritance. This latter inheritance presented Hetty with other 
problems. If she didn t have children, the money would pass on her 
death to others related to her aunt. So in 1867 she married 46- 
year-old Edward H. Green, himself a millionaire, but to protect her 
interests she made him sign a premarital agreement relinquishing 
all claims to her money. 

Green was a happy-go-lucky sort who eventually went broke in 
the 1880s, and the couple separated. This did not have a shattering 

Green, Hetty 131 

Although buying a new dress for her daughter Sylvia s wedding to Matthew Astor Wilkes 
didn t kill Hetty Green (left, with her son-in-law and Sylvia), an argument over the price 
of milk caused the demise of Hetty Green s parsimonious life. (Library of Congress) 

effect on Hetty since she had by then two children. Her offspring 
would grow up to become certified eccentrics in their own right 
the daughter, Sylvia, turned into a recluse, and the son, Ned, after 
his mother s death, became a free-spending magnifico, running 
through $3 million a year without even trying. While Hetty said 
some harsh things about her husband after their parting, she ap 
parently still regarded him with some affection apparently pro 
viding him with some support and when he died in 1902, she 
wore mourning black for the rest of her life. Happily, black showed 
dirt least and could go longer between washings. 

From the moment Hetty inherited her first million, she devoted 
her every breathing moment to but two pursuits the grasping 
chase of more money, and the equally satisfying nonactivity of 
spending none of the same. She did not see much sense wasting so 
much soap washing all of her long black dresses. Instead, she 
merely scrubbed the lower portions of the skirts. Her dresses in 
time took on a brown, and then a green, tint because of the long 
interval between scrubbings. 

Once, when charged 10 cents for a bottle of medicine, the 

132 Green, Hetty 

outraged Hetty informed the druggist she would henceforth bring 
her own bottle and cut the cost of the prescription to five cents. She 
was even more frugal about newspapers, devouring all the financial 
news and then refolding the publication, having little Ned take it 
out on the street and resell it. After her husband departed, Hetty 
went on to prove that three she and her children could live as 
cheaply as one, and by Hetty s standards that meant cheaply indeed. 

They resided in the dingiest hotels transferring quickly and 
often from Hoboken, New Jersey, to New York City and back 
again traveled in the cheapest conveyance possible, and ate in the 
simplest restaurants. There was a method to Hetty s madness, the 
hotel residence changes making it difficult for state officials to levy 
taxes on her. Her appearance of abject poverty was also important 
to Hetty, who feared assassination by relatives; under certain inher 
itances, portions of her funds reverted to them on her death. Hetty 
constantly promoted the fiction with them that she had gone broke. 

Perhaps her most scandalous exercise of parsimony involved 
Ned s sledding accident. Her son dislocated his kneecap, and Hetty 
attempted to save on medical bills by treating the injury herself. 
When it did not respond, Hetty put on her most impoverished 
wardrobe and presented her son at Bellevue Hospital as a charity 
patient. Unfortunately, she was recognized, and the doctors de 
manded payment. Enraged, Hetty left with Ned, vowing not to give 
the grasping medical men a penny. Eventually, the boy s condition, 
which would have been easily curable with early medical treatment, 
worsened; amputation of the leg became necessary. 

It must be said that after that Hetty did dote a bit over her son, 
sending him to Fordham College and later to Manhattan and Chi 
cago for further specialization in real-estate law. When Ned was 24, 
Hetty packed him off to Texas to see what he could do to make 
money for her running some of her railroad interests there. Ned 
did reasonably well, but he certainly never matched Hetty s financial 

By that time Hetty had gained the reputation as the Witch of 
Wall Street, trading with a surefooted audacity that stunned other 
renowned speculators. Immediately after the Civil War, Hetty 
bought heavily in U.S. bonds, while other financial figures avoided 
them; this latter attitude sent their value plummeting. But Hetty 
had displayed a greater understanding of financial and political 
realities; she believed the nation would not repudiate its debt. She 
also took over ailing business enterprises, especially railroads, and 
by making war on her competitors, returned them to profitability. 
One biographer called her "a sort of reverse Florence Nightingale" 

Green, Hetty 133 

who, in her financial dealings, "was soon stacking the maimed and 
dying like cordwood as a result of her ruthless operations." 

Such a callous operator as Jay Gould was appalled at the car 
nage she wreaked, destroying a number of his own plans. Even that 
arch-robber baron Collis P. Huntington whose motto was: "What 
is not nailed down is mine. Whatever I can pry loose is not nailed 
down" turned livid at Hetty s ruthlessness. 

Such criticism didn t prick Hetty. The name of the game was 
making, and keeping, money. She operated out of free desk space 
offered her by the old Chemical National Bank her constant 
threat of removing her money obtained such rent-free conces 
sions heated oatmeal on a radiator to feed herself, sometimes 
simply slicing and devouring a Spanish onion. Onions, she said, 
were not only healthy but most economical. Whenever Hetty was 
particularly morose, she would empty a safe-deposit box or two and 
sit on the cold marble floor, caressing the notes and certificates. 

With Hetty making money hand over fist and Ned off in the 
wilds of middle America, denizen of the highest priced brothels 
whenever he could fool his mother, the housekeeping was left to 
daughter Sylvia. She mended clothes, cooked, washed dishes, and 
shopped, subject to Hetty s checking on the prices she paid for the 
necessities of life. Years later, Sylvia was once asked if she lived with 
her mother in Hoboken, and she replied, "Yes, if you call it living." 

It was not a remark Sylvia would have made to her mother s 
face, nor would Ned have been so inclined. It was rash behavior 
indeed for anyone to question Hetty s penny-pinching ways. Just 
that sort of effrontery was to prove the death of old Hetty. In 1916, 
Hetty was the houseguest of some friends and, as was her wont, she 
proceeded to lecture her hostess for her extravagant spending. Her 
hostess absorbed the criticism, but the servants bridled at Hetty s 
words. One day the cook got drunk and told her off, an argument 
having ensued over Hetty s claim that skim milk would fulfill a 
certain recipe as well as whole milk. Hetty insisted that the cook 
was simply squandering her employer s funds. Right in the middle 
of the verbal outburst, Hetty suffered a stroke. 

She never recovered, dying a short time later, with several 
trained nurses in attendance. Ned had hired them but made them 
wear street clothes. He knew that if his mother suspected they were 
professionals, the thought of the fees involved would have been 
enough to cause an immediate second stroke. 

134 Walsh, Ellen 

Walsh. Elba alia Mayfleld Ida (1838-1932) 

She was a belle of New York in the 1860s and seventies, having 
married Benjamin Wood, a copperhead congressman and news 
paper publisher. She was the former Ida Mayfield; she had been a 
New Orleans belle before she became a New York belle, the viva 
cious daughter of Judge Thomas Henry Mayfield of Louisiana. 

She was a true beauty and Ben Wood lavished gifts on her, and 
when he took her to New York, where he ran the New York Daily 
News, she was socially active, danced with the Prince of Wales (who 
became King Edward VII), and counted Samuel J. Tilden among 
her personal friends. She entertained President Grover Cleveland. 
She was widowed in 1900. Then in 1907, she simply vanished not 
before she walked into the Morton Trust Company, drew out all 
her money, amounting to nearly a million dollars, in cash, and 
stuffed it into a large brown shopping bag, never to return to the 
bank again. 

Mrs. Wood did not resurface until 1931, when she was found 
living in New York s Herald Square Hotel, in what can only be 
described as Dickensonian squalor. She was 93, and the contents of 
the room, including huge stacks of yellowed newspapers, seemed 
that old as well. Hundreds of letters and old pictures carpeted the 
floor. Cardboard boxes were piled to the ceiling. All over lay half- 
century-old ball programs from New Orleans, as well as all sorts of 
inscribed portraits of famous personalities. Lying promiscuously 
amongst the litter were all sorts of jewelry. When police started 
opening some of the cardboard boxes, they found them stuffed 
with negotiable securities worth as much as half a million dollars. 
They opened a cracker box and out fell a diamond-and-emerald 

Mrs. Wood was found to have a canvas pouch tied to her body. 
It contained fifty $10,000 bills. The courts declared Mrs. Wood 
incompetent and supplied legal counsel to look after her interests. 
The old lady was almost deaf, but she was amused by the official 
action. She had taken her money out of the bank in 1907, before 
the Panic of 1907, protecting her entire fortune. "I did quite well, 
you know, and it seems very strange they should call me incompe 
tent. I made money and I kept it. So many people whom everyone 
considers quite competent can t do that." She may have been a 

Teed, Cyrus Reed 135 

recluse but she certainly knew of 1929 and, having kept her fortune 
in good hard cash, she had survived that as well. 

Legally, it seemed there was no reason to deprive her of her 
money. If she wanted to live in squalor and keep her money out of 
banks that failed, there seemed little reason not to allow her to do 
so. However, the matter became a moot point early the following 
year, when Mrs. Wood contracted pneumonia and died. 

There was, not surprisingly, much rejoicing in Louisiana, 
where scores of Mayfields pushed into view to claim a share of the 
former Ida Mayfield s fortune. Then came a bizarre twist. The 
courts rejected all their claims. Careful research determined that 
there had never been any Ida Mayfield. Actually Mrs. Wood had 
been born plain Ellen Walsh, and her father was an Irish immi 
grant peddler who had lived for a while in Maiden, Massachusetts, 
and died in California in 1864. 

Ellen took the name of Ida Mayfield to satisfy her desire to 
crash high society. Not even Ben Wood ever suspected the truth. 
She even pinned the Mayfield name on her mother, brother, and 
sister. Her sister became Mary E. Mayfield and her brother, Michael 
Walsh, changed his name to Henry Benjamin Walsh. Ellen even 
changed the name on her father s tombstone to Thomas H. May- 
field. And when her mother died in 1883, Ellen had her buried as 
"Ann Mary Crawford, widow of Thomas Henry Mayfield." 

The shattered Mayfields returned to Louisiana. Eventually the 
Wood estate was divided by ten Walsh descendants who received 
$84,490.92 apiece from an eccentric ancestor they hadn t even 
known had ever lived. 

Teed Cyrus Reed (1839-1908) 


Unlike hollow-earthers Captain John Cleves Symmes (q.v.) and Mar 
shall B. Gardner (q.v.), Cyrus Teed concocted what scientists regard 
as an even more preposterous variation of that theory. By Teed s 
standards, Symmes and Gardner were towers of sanity. Under 

136 Teed, Cyrus Reed 

Teed s version of the universe the earth was indeed hollow but the 
difference was that we were the people inside. 

Symmes and Gardner arrived at their conclusions by mere in 
tellectual achievement. But Teed enjoyed some help from a heav 
enly character. One night in 1869, Teed was alone in his laboratory 
in Utica, New York, working on his previous line of endeavor 
alchemy when a beautiful girl appeared to him in a vision. She 
informed him of his past incarnations and told him that he was a 
new messiah. Rather offhandedly, she let him in on the secret of 
the true cosmogony. 

The cosmos was not anything like the way scientist-writer Carl 
Sagan was to describe it a century later. No, really it was rather like 
an egg, with mankind living on the inner surface of the shell; the 
hollow inside contained the entire universe the sun, moon, plan 
ets, comets, and stars. At the center of this open space was a huge 
sun, half light and half dark, and our sun was really just a reflection 
of it. Only because this central sun rotated did we suffer from the 
illusion that our sun rises and sets. The moon? A mere reflection 
of the earth. The planets? Reflections of "mercurial discs floating 
between the laminae of the metallic planes." The heavenly bodies? 
Focal points of light, all explained away later by Teed under his 
various "optical laws." 

For 38 years Teed labored away with unflagging dedication to 
spreading the gospel of this view of the universe. It was quite a step 
up for this former farm youth who had served as a Civil War pri 
vate. Later Teed went into practice as a doctor in Utica, New York, 
having graduated from the New York Eclectic Medical College. 
Eclecticism was a 19th-century medical movement relying mostly 
on herb remedies. 

As a sideline to his medical practice, he dabbled in alchemy, 
looking for a way to make gold. He junked that enterprise when it 
became apparent that the heavenly forces had greater things in 
mind for him. 

And it must be said that Teed s inside-out theory enjoyed con 
siderable success, attracting thousands of followers. His first two 
works, Illumination ofKoresh: Marvelous Experience of the Great Alche 
mist at Utica, New York and The Cellular Cosmogony, attracted a wild- 
eyed following. Later a number of observers, including author Carl 
Carmer in his Dark Trees to the Wind, would note that the great 
appeal of Teed s cult was its clear representation of a "return to the 

Not surprisingly, Teed s early interest in Koreshanity (Kvresh is 
Hebrew for Cyrus) led to a falling off of his medical practice. Folks 

Teed, Cyrus Reed 137 

began calling him Utica s "mad doctor." His troubled wife left him, 
but Teed paid that little mind. In 1886 he shook off the dust of 
Utka and headed for Chicago. There he established the headquar 
ters of his Koreshan movement, including a commune called Kore- 
shan Unity, a magazine called The Guiding Star (later succeeded by 
The Flaming Sword which, along with the womb theory, was in later 
years to delight the Freudians), and a "College of Life." 

The Chicago Herald in 1894 described Teed as "an undersized, 
smooth-shaven man of 54 whose brown, restless eyes glow and burn 
like live coals. ... He exerts a strange mesmerizing influence over 
his converts, particularly the other sex." Indeed, approximately 
three out of four of his followers were women. He traveled from 
coast to coast spreading the word, clad in a Prince Albert coat, black 
trousers, flowing white silk bow tie, and wide-brimmed hat. In Cal 
ifornia alone he had 4,000 followers. 

Of course he had no followers at all in the scientific community. 
Perhaps this was because these "humbugs," as he called them, could 
not in their doltishness fathom his simple explanations. Thus Teed 
lost them when he called planets "spheres of substance aggregated 
through the impact of afferent and efferent fluxions of essence," 
and described comets as being "composed of cruosic force, caused 
by the condensation of substance through the dissipation of the 
coloric substance at the opening of the electro-magnetic circuits, 
which closes the conduits of solar and lunar energy/ " 

Somehow this made his female followers swoon, and they 
added their amens when he announced: "... to know of the earth s 
concavity ... is to know God, while to believe in the earth s convex 
ity is to deny Him and all his works. All that is opposed to Kore- 
shanity is antichrist." 

In the late 1890s Teed established a new town called Estero, 
about 16 miles south of Fort Myers, Florida, and announced it was 
"The New Jerusalem." He predicted that it would eventually have 
eight million inhabitants and become the capital of the world. 

Teed also began to prepare his followers for his physical death, 
promising that he would then arise and lead the faithful to Para 
dise. He got out a book, The Immortal Manhood, on this theme just in 
time. In 1908, at the age of 69, he got into a physical dispute with 
the marshal of Fort Myers and died as a result. Death occurred on 
December 22, and 200 members of the colony took up a constant 
prayer vigil over the corpse. Forty-eight hours later it started to 
take on a rather distinct odor. Christmas passed; the odor had 
become so pronounced that the county health officials ordered im 
mediate burial. Teed s distraught followers put him in a concrete 

138 Winchester, Sarah Pardee 

sarcophagus on Estero Island, off the Gulf Coast. They waited for 
the next 13 years for Teed to arise like Lazarus, but he never did. 
Then a tropical hurricane pounded the tomb and carried Teed 
away to the ocean depths. The last of Teed s followers remained 
until 1949, awaiting his return to New Jerusalem. Then they finally 

Winchester, <arah Pardee (1839-1922) 

The mansion perhaps the most fantastic and certainly one of the 
most expensive structures ever erected stands today as a museum 
open to the public, a still uncompleted monument to fear and guilt. 
Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester of the 
Connecticut gun family, began to build her mansion in San Jose, 
California, in 1884; it was to become an incredible obsession, always 
being built and rebuilt because she was tortured with the idea that 
she would die if it were ever finished. 

Sarah Pardee had married Winchester in 1862, when she was 
in her early twenties. It was a luckless marriage, childless save for 
an infant who died shortly after birth. Winchester himself died in 
1881, and Sarah apparently developed the notion that she and her 
family were being punished for the sins of "the gun." Thousands 
of people, white and red, had died by the Winchester rifle, and she 
became obsessed with the belief that these victims had cursed the 
Winchester fortune and would haunt her the rest of her days. Spir 
itualists whom she consulted confirmed the theory, but, happily at 
last, one offered her a solution to her dilemma. She had to build a 
magnificent mansion to protect herself from these vengeful ghosts, 
one that would at the same time attract friendly spirits, including 
her late husband, to keep her from harm s way. 

Sarah Winchester was convinced. She took her $20 million 
inheritance and moved west, to San Jose; in 1884, work began on 
Winchester House. While the widow was sure the good ghosts 
would take up their duties, she was not content to leave her worldly 
safety to the spirit world. The bad ghosts would be sure to come, 

Winchester, Sarah Pardee 1 39 

she knew, and she would have to employ all the guile she could to 
frustrate them. She would fool them with secret passages, false 
doors, and stairways that would end in midair. Thus, for the next 
38 years, work went on without pause at the mansion. Some carpen 
ters did no work elsewhere for periods of upwards of two decades. 

And Winchester House grew. Eventually it had blossomed into 
being eight stories high, containing 158 rooms. There were five 
fully equipped kitchens (plus four more in ready-reserve), 13 bath 
rooms, 48 fireplaces, five separate heating systems, and no less than 
2,000 doors and 10,000 windows. Hundreds of these doors and 
windows opened on blank walls, all part of the scheme to confuse 
the ghostly invaders. Secret passages twisted for miles between the 
walls of the rooms, many of which would over the years be torn 
down and reconstructed according to some new inspiration of Mrs. 
Winchester. If an intruder, earthly or unearthly, got into the place, 
he might well go mad trying to find his way about. One stairway 
had 44 steps and seven turns but at the end rose less than 10 feet. 
The uninvited would no doubt give themselves away if they lighted 
the wrong fireplace. Some bore chimneys that did not reach the 
roof, and the smoke would quickly spread the alarm. 

Although she had no architectural background, Mrs. Winches 
ter made up her own plans or altered those of others. She had a 
huge bell tower constructed, inaccessible save for a torturous climb 
over the roof, and the bell rope fed into a concealed well that 
emerged only in a secret cellar. Thus the widow would be able to 
move to safety and ring an alarm if the spirit invasion occurred. 

For 38 years on weekends and holidays construction work 
never ceased on Winchester House. Mrs. Winchester could awake 
each morning to the comforting sounds of workmen shouting and 
hammers pounding, and she would realize she had remained safe 
within the bizarre multi-walled structure. When she died in 1922 at 
the age of 83, the mansion, on which she had expended more than 
a quarter of her legacy, had already achieved the status of a legend. 
In 1973 California made Winchester House a state historical land 

140 Leese, George 

Leese, George "&iatchem" (fl. ol84Q&-186Qs) 

One of the most infamous toughs of New York City in the mid- 
18505, George Leese was nicknamed Snatehem because, as a mem 
ber of the notorious Slaughter House gang, he was adept at stealing 
almost anything from almost anybody. The newspapers of the day 
profiled him as one of the great perils to both citizens of and visi 
tors to the city. One reporter described him as "a beastly, obscene 
ruffian, with bulging, bulbous, watery-blue eyes, bloated face 
and coarse swaggering gait. 1 Snatehem, with considerable pride, 
called himself a "rough-and-tumble-stand-up-to-be-knocked- 
down-son-of-a-gun," and a "kicking-in-the-head-knife-in-a-dark- 

He was all that and more. When not engaged in violent crime, 
he was something of a sporting gentleman: he was an official blood 
sucker at illegal, bare-knuckle prizefights in lower Manhattan. He 
also served as an entertainer at the notorious rat pits where shows 
were held of terrier dogs fighting rat packs to the death. It was the 
duty of both Snatehem and another character of the day, Jack the 
Rat, to scour the waterfront for the fattest, meanest rats to be 
found. Both of them entertained the audience between canine- 
rodent battles, biting the heads off live mice for sports who offered 
them dimes. For a quarter, they would perform the same grisly act 
upon a huge rat. 

In the late 1860s it became the vogue for indefatigable men of 
the cloth to wander into the slums of lower Manhattan, to spread 
the gospel and reform the vilest human creatures. Probably more 
efforts were expended in vain efforts to alter the habits of 
Snatehem than for any other rogue. "His intelligence," wrote one 
chronicler of the times, "was not of a very high order, and he was 
easily aroused by the fiery exhortations of the preachers and the 
emotional appeal of the shouting and hymn-singing. He asked for 
prayers at every meeting, and frequently embarrassed the ministers 
by publicly inquiring when they would receive the barrel of water 
from the river Jordan, which he had been assured would wash away 
his sins." 

The ministers in the end gave Snatehem up as a lost cause after 
he explained why he wanted to become an angel and go to Heaven: 
he wanted to bite off Gabriel s ear. 

Snatchem s later fate, both here and in the Hereafter, has not 

Coit, Lillie 141 

been convincingly chronicled. Reports that he went to Philadelphia 
after the police closed down a number of his sporting-house haunts 
may have deserved some credibility; it was reported that a vicious 
street criminal was forcing victims into an alley and robbing them 
of their valuables by holding a live rat to their faces. Another tale 
had Snatchem wandering to New England where, after a rat-biting 
exhibition, he died of "food poisoning," but that tale was most 
probably apocryphal. 

Coit Lillie (1842-1929) 


It has been said that no American city felt more at home with its 
"characters" than did San Francisco. It is perhaps doubtful that 
Lillie Hitchcock Coit would have become the city mascot of any 
other community. One might have thought San Francisco had had 
quite enough, with its "Emperor" Joshua Norton (q.v.), but within 
its bosom it had room for Lillie as well. These two were strikingly 
different. Norton was totally impoverished, while Lillie was very, 
very, very rich. 

Lillie s accomplishments were many in her role of active eccen 
tric, and her unconventional behavior paved the way for women to 
leave the home and enter the affairs of the world. If she was 
thought of as strange, her behavior was probably no more unusual 
than her more socially minded contemporary Susan B. Anthony. 
After all, the act of being different than society deemed correct for 
women often merely by doing the same things as men inspired 
the feminist movement in general. The more Lillie did that was 
unusual and, to some, outrageous, the more other California 
women felt free to strike out for their own individuality. 

A stunning beauty, Lillie Hitchcock could have been the belle 
of San Francisco society just as her mother had been, among the 
first families of Virginia but, as some of her biographers have 
noted, she showed none of the snobbery that went with the terri 
tory. When she was 10, Lillie felt most comfortable sneaking down 

142 Coit, Lillie 

to the waterfront to chase rats with the boys or, alternately, follow 
the fire wagons. By the time she was in her late teens, she had 
become one of the "bhoys" of the volunteer fire companies and was 
made an honorary member of Knickerbocker Engine Company 
No. 5. 

She often waited in the firehouse for the return of the fire 
fighters and had soup or tea ready for them. She would appear at 
company parties wearing an evening dress with a huge fireman s 
belt around her waist and a shiny black fire helmet. She was the star 
attraction at parades, mounted on the fire engine, waving to the 
cheering crowd. After an arduous time fighting a fire, the firemen 
would be led, still grimy and tired, to one of the city s finer eateries 
to be treated by Lillie to a sumptuous dinner. 

At all times Lillie wore a gold "5" badge, indicating her mem 
bership in the engine company, and she took to signing all her 
letters and legal documents as "Lillie Hitchcock 5." As popular as 
Lillie was, she and her pro-Confederacy mother were forced to 
leave San Francisco in 1862 because of harsh feelings engendered 
by the Civil War. 

Mother and daughter went to France, but Lillie missed the city 
on the bay and returned home the following year, to be fully ac 
cepted by a citizenry who had missed her as much as she had 
missed it. Once more, Lillie Hitchcock 5 was the darling of the fire 
companies, and in time she was generally accepted as a sort of city- 
wide mascot. She married the socially prominent Benjamin Howard 
Coit and became Lillie Hitchcock Coit 5 thereafter. If Coit thought 
he could reform Lillie or channel her energies into what he re 
garded as more constructive pursuits, he was sorely disappointed. 
She took to dying her hair in what would now be called punk 
fashion. When her husband objected, Lillie got even by shaving her 
head, wearing red, black, or blonde wigs on successive days. It drove 
poor Coit to distraction, a condition hardly improved upon when 
the couple ventured out for an evening, and he found himself in 
the company of what had become a sightseeing attraction. 

Eventually, Lillie s father, Dr. Charles M. Hitchcock, attempted 
to tame his daughter and save her marriage by plucking her from 
her bohemian life-style in San Francisco, ensconcing her in a coun 
try estate in the Napa Valley. Coit left Lillie after she proceeded to 
turn the retreat into a sort of little Frisco, inviting her many friends, 
most of whom he regarded as uncouth. Lillie s country estate also 
became a calling station for literary lights passing through; she 
played hostess to such figures as Robert Louis Stevenson and Joa- 
quin Miller. 

Coinstock, Anthony 143 

Still, the lure of San Francisco was too powerful for Lillie, and 
she returned to her beloved city to reign as mascot from a suite in 
the lavish Palace Hotel. She maintained her own form of rowdy 
grace even as she aged, but in 1904 she suffered a severe trauma 
when an acquaintance of hers (an old Confederate soldier) shot one 
of her visitors to death in Lillie s hotel sitting room. Lillie became 
so unnerved that she fled to Europe for refuge once again. This 
was a much longer trip than her previous emigration. Lillie feared 
to return to San Francisco while the killer still lived, although he 
was institutionalized. Finally, when the man died in 1924, Lillie 
came home. Two decades had passed. Lillie was now in her eighties, 
but Frisco had not forgotten her. She was received with raucous 

Lillie, still the mascot of the city, lived another five years. When 
she died in 1929, she was buried wearing her famed "5" badge. 

She bequeathed the major portion of her substantial estate for 
civic improvements. An observation tower was constructed atop 
Telegraph Hill to honor her. Never cited as an outstanding example 
of civic architecture, it has been described as nothing more than a 
huge fire-hose nozzle. 

Comstock, Anthony (1844-1915) 


He conducted a lifelong crusade against vice in all its forms, includ 
ing some we would not consider to be so. In fact, today very little 
of the "bestial matters" he sought to suppress, from contraceptives 
to "pornography," are illegal. Perhaps the sole legacy of Anthony 
Comstock, called "the great American bluenose," whose fight 
against "sin" often bordered on the eccentric, is the word Comstock- 
ery, which is defined in the American College Dictionary as "overzeal- 
ous censorship of the fine arts and literature, often mistaking 
outspokenly honest works for salacious productions." Comstock s 
excessive attribution of sin to anything he didn t approve of indeed 
made Comstockery, in the words of George Bernard Shaw, "the 
world s standing joke at the expense of the U.S." 

144 Comstock, Anthony 

He was himself used and abused by others who profited from 
the publicity he gave them. On one occasion a California judge, 
before whom Comstock had dragged some department-store win 
dow dressers for putting clothes on wax dummies in full public view, 
exploded at him, "Mr. Comstock, I think you re nuts." 

Comstock found his calling at the age of 18, when he forcefully 
demonstrated his hatred for demon rum by breaking into a liquor 
store and turning on the spigots of all the kegs. In 1873 he estab 
lished the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and re 
mained its operating head for the last 42 years of his life. That 
same year, the 29-year-old Comstock pushed through a federal law 
banning the sale of obscene literature, including contraceptive in 
formation, through the mail. He got himself made a Post Office 
special agent charged with enforcing its statutes. During the presi 
dential campaign, he met with Ulysses S. Grant in order to gain 
support for the law. Grant, in need of votes in the Midwest, agreed; 

The life work of Anthony Comstock is little remembered but for the word "Com- 
stockery," defined as "overzealous censorship of the fine arts and literature, often mistak 
ing outspoken honest works for salacious productions." (Library of Congress) 

Comstock, Anthony 145 

as one political wag put it, perhaps he thought his support of Com 
stock "might kill his whisky breath" with the voters. 

From then on, there was no holding Comstock back. In 1913 
he would review his career proudly, informing a newspaper inter 
viewer, "... I have convicted persons enough to fill a passenger 
train of 61 coaches, 60 coaches containing 60 passengers and the 
sixty-first almost full. I have destroyed 160 tons of obscene litera 
ture." Among those whose works felt his moral wrath were Mar 
garet Sanger, for her books on birth control, and Walt Whitman, 
whom Comstock got the Department of the Interior to fire for 
publishing Leaves of Grass. Under the fury of Comstock s outrage, 
publishers censored their own works. Under the rules of Comstock- 
ery, pregnant became enceinte. But Comstock s proudest boast was 
that he had caused 16 persons to be so hounded that they either 
committed suicide or died from fear of him. 

No one was safe from Comstock s wrath. New York art galleries 
learned that they could not display paintings of nudes. There was 
no difference in Comstock s mind between dirty pictures and art if 
both featured nudity. Many art dealers found themselves grabbed 
by the scruff of the neck by Comstock, heading for the nearest 
police station. 

Comstock waged a one-man war on street hawkers of what 
were called French postcards. He would sidle up to the man and 
ask for something really dirty. Unimpressed by the hawker s initial 
offerings, he would insist he wanted something, as they said, "feel- 
thy." Many a hawker, delighted to have such a live one, would take 
Comstock back to his abode and offer him the pick of his prize 
pornography. Instantly Comstock would flash his badge, and off 
they went. Comstock used leads from these postcard sellers to lo 
cate their suppliers. He led Post Office raids on four printing plants 
that supplied pornography for the entire country. More than 50 
tons of plates and pictures were seized. It was said that the dirty- 
picture business never recovered in Comstock s lifetime. 

But, just as Comstock s eccentric zeal reached legendary pro 
portions, he became victimized by his own foolishness. The great 
publicist Henry Reichenbach utilized Comstock to turn an inoffen 
sive and not particularly good painting of a naked young lady bath 
ing in a lake into a bestseller. It was "September Morn" by Paul 
Chabas, and it was considered so tame that it had been rejected for 
a barber-shop calendar. Reichenbach had come across a New York 
art dealer who was stuck with 2,000 prints. Striking a commission 
deal with him, Reichenbach promised to promote the picture s 
sales. He had the dealer put the picture in the window and then, 

146 Sherman, Charles R. 

posing as a minister, telephoned Comstock to protest the filthy 
painting. Comstock hurried to the scene and was shocked to see 
several young boys congregated in front of the store window, leer 
ing at the picture. Reichenbach had paid the kids a quarter each to 
man their stations, and the hoax worked. When the dealer refused 
to take the offending picture from the window, Comstock started 
legal action, claiming the picture was obscene. Comstock lost the 
court battle, and the resulting publicity made "September Morn" 
the best-known painting in America in the early 20th century. It 
went on to sell millions of prints, thanks to Comstock. 

George Bernard Shaw similarly could thank Comstock for 
making his play, Mrs. Warren s Profession, a huge success in 1905, 
when it was closed by police after one performance in New York s 
Garrick Theater. The self-appointed protector of public morals 
had complained to the law, calling the play "reekings." It was in 
return for this that Shaw coined the word Comstockery. The courts 
did not find the play to be salacious, and Mrs. Warren s Profession 
soon after mopped up. 

In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson appointed Comstock the 
country s representative to the International Purity Congress being 
held in San Francisco. Although enfeebled of body, Comstock 
proved to be a fire-eater at the gathering, although he was to be 
disgraced by a local judge s description of him as "nuts" in the store- 
window mannequin case. Some say Comstock came home a beaten 
man after that. A short time later, on September 21, 1915, he died. 

Charles D. (1844-1921) 


It was often said in Watertown, New York, that Charlie Sherman 
was the town s most beloved liar. If every town is entitled to its 
"town character," Watertown people agreed proudly that Sherman 
made it a matter of civic responsibility to have one. 

He was better known as Huckleberry Charlie, and when he 
died he was just short of his seventy-eighth year; that, despite the 

Sherman, Charles R. 147 

fact that he had celebrated at least several hundred birthdays. As 
the Watertown Standard reported in his obituary in 1921: 

Huckleberry Charlie Sherman s days of spellbinding are 
over. Watertown will miss a familiar figure. The champion 
huckleberry picker in the United States has passed away. 

The age of Charlie was 78, but everytime he came into 
Watertown he announced a birthday anniversary. On the 
strength of that he garnered many gifts from the merchants, 
as he made his pilgrimage about Public Square. . . . 

His presence here always meant innumerable speeches in 
which he recited that he was born in Watertown, lived at Pine 
Plains and was the champion huckleberry picker. He always 
said the Plains was good only to raise hell and huckleberries. 

At each store he would be given an unsalable article of 
dress. At the end of the tour he would be decked out in the 
colors of the rainbow. Joseph s coat of many colors was tame 
beside Huckleberry s duck trousers, checked pongee coat, 
brilliant red necktie and a college boy s panama. Added to this 
Charlie was certain to have a stogie poised at the Joe Cannon 

At county fairs he was always a visitor his entrance was 
gratuitous for he was one of the midway attractions. Lucky 
was the vendor in front of whose stand Sherman took his 
position. The crowd followed him and listened avidly to the 
time-worn theme. Charlie talked so fast that it required three 
renditions of the speech to comprehend the ideas and se 
quences. If one remained any length of time, he would hear 
the third rendition. 

No matter with whom Huckleberry Charlie had a confronta 
tion, he had a way of coming out ahead. He often got conductors 
to let him ride the train free, pointing out his pants were checked. 
Once a visiting judge, before whom Charlie appeared on a charge 
of having imbibed too much, looked at his bizarre wardrobe with 
distaste and asked him if he worked. Huckleberry showed him his 
hands and said he didn t "have hands like that from sittin in a cane- 
bottom chair." He was on his way home on the 5:10 train. 

Once Huckleberry was almost convicted of spying in a military 
court-martial. It was the fault of the U.S. Army that it attempted to 
hold maneuvers involving thousands of soldiers at Pine Plains, with 
Charlie s home in the middle of the theoretical battle. The Blues 
scored a notable victory over the Reds, a situation that called for an 

1 48 Bowie, John Alexander 

official investigation. It turned out that Charlie had taken a liking 
to some of the Blues and reported the movements of the Reds to 
them. Some officers were very incensed, but Charlie merely 
shrugged, pointing out he never did much like any Reds. No more 
war games were staged in Huckleberry s territory. 

If the communities of the area all had their own delightful tales 
to tell of Charlie, his wife of almost 50 years, Dell, was not always 
amused. At one time she petitioned the courts to have her husband 
confined to an institution. Doctors agreed that there was no doubt 
of Huckleberry s insanity, but nothing much came of it all. Public 
opinion was against losing Huckleberry Charlie and he remained 
free. Officially this was due to a squabble by various towns as to 
which would be required to pay for the costs of his treatment. 

Dell got the message, and in time, like all those in the Water- 
town area, she accepted her lot with Charlie. 

Dowie, Jok Alexander (1847-1907) 

A Scottish-born charlatan, John Alexander Dowie emigrated to 
Australia where he operated as a faith healer until he moved on, 
perhaps under inspiration of the law, to the United States. He tried 
his hand at the Columbia Exposition as Prophet Elijah III but didn t 
do too well. He drifted out of Chicago into the hinterlands, and in 
1896 he established a brand new religious order, the Christian Ap 
ostolic Church. Having now progressed from crank to full-fledged 
megalomaniac, he identified himself as the messenger of the Cove 
nant who had been prophesied by Malachi. Later he asserted he 
was Elijah the Restorer. 

On a 10-square-mile site on Lake Michigan, 42 miles north of 
Chicago, he established Zion City where some 5,000 of his followers 
took up residence. The entire community factories, homes, tab 
ernacle, bank, and printing plant was owned by Dowie. 

The dour Dowie established the moral and legal rules of his 
fiefdom, strictly forbidding such activities as smoking, consuming 

Dowie, John Alexander 1 49 

alcohol, or eating pork. Also banned were such evil institutions as 
dance halls, theaters, and drugstores, the last hardly necessary since 
no doctors were allowed in Zion City. 

Garbed in white robes, Dowie paraded through the town look 
ing for other evils, such as high heels on women s shoes, and several 
times a day he conducted devotional services for the faithful who 
wee summoned by a steam whistle. 

Now equipped with the title of General Overseer, Dowie exer 
cised complete control over his followers, and his kingdom was 
estimated to be worth some $10 million, every penny of which 
belonged to Dowie. As the fame of his church spread, Dowie pub 
lished newspapers in six different languages to instruct his follow 
ers in different parts of the world. 

By 1903 Dowie was convinced he would soon be converting all 
of mankind, and he invaded New York City with a crusading army 
of 3,000 of the faithful aboard 10 special trains. The more sophis 
ticated New Yorkers listened to Dowie s message and then practi 
cally laughed him out of town. 

Crushed by the New York debacle and other costly ventures in 
different countries, Dowie, faced with a severe cash-flow drain, or 
dered all members of the church to deposit all their money in his 
bank. He then went to Mexico to investigate the possibility of estab 
lishing a branch of the church there. He signed over power of 
attorney to a supposedly devoted follower, Wilbur Glenn Voliva 
(q.v.). In 1905 Voliva engineered Dowie s removal from office with 
all the finesse of a banana-republic maneuver. 

Dowie returned from Mexico critically ill but took up battle in 
the courts. He denied Voliva s charges that he had squandered some 
$2 million of church funds on such things as women and drink, 
and he called Voliva a madman. 

Dowie died in 1907, having been officially declared insane 
shortly before. There were those who thought he had been mad 
for a great many years. But there were also many who agreed with 
Dowie s assertion that Voliva was rather mad himself. 

150 Cannary, Martha Jane 

Cannary, Martha Jane (c.1848-1903) 

Few characters of the Old West have come down to us with as many 
exaggerations, misrepresentations, or downright lies as Martha Jane 
Cannary, or Canary, better known as Calamity Jane. 

She has been heralded as a great shot, Indian fighter, raving 
beauty, and lover, and of these qualifications only the first and last 
have any claim to validity. She was quite a shooter when drunk 
which meant she was quite a shooter. As for romantic inclinations, 
she was not, as often ascribed, the secret bride of Wild Bill Hickok; 
but she was quite a lady with the boys, especially during her stay at 
E. Coffey s celebrated "hog farm" near Fort Laramie. 

In truth Calamity she was thus nicknamed because wherever 
she turned up calamities were sure to follow was one of the West s 
foremost eccentrics, a 19th-century bag lady, if you will, of the 
plains. A nomad with all her possessions in a duffel bag, she came 
out of Missouri farming country with her folks in 1863, and she 
continued on her own when both parents took sick and died in 
Utah around 1865. Calamity was somewhere between 13 and 17 
years old, and she drifted from town to town, working for a time as 
a laborer on the Union Pacific. 

According to her own account, Calamity also worked as a mule 
skinner on a cattle-driving team. She had by this time taken to 
wearing men s pants, smoking cigars, chewing tobacco, and drink 
ing heavily. It is unclear how often on these various jobs she was 
known to be a woman or was considered one of the boys. Big-boned 
and muscular, she could easily pass as one of the latter. 

She did precisely that in the 1870s, when she joined General 
Crook s campaign against the Sioux as a mule skinner. The army 
was under the illusion she was a man, a misconception that ended 
when a horrified colonel found her swimming in a stream with 
some of the soldiers. Calamity was sent packing. It was, as near as 
can be determined, the last time she attempted the masquerade. 
Throughout the seventies, Calamity s legend blossomed. It was in 
this period that she allegedly married Hickok and had a daughter 
by him. But if Calamity ever married anyone it was Clinton Burke, 
an odd-job Texan who tarried in the Black Hills at the same time as 
Calamity. If Calamity actually married Burke, she certainly didn t 
take the vows seriously and was happier as a riding mate of Hickok, 

Cannary, Martha Jane 1 5 1 

Calamity Jane endeared herself more to folklore than to the folk of the Wild West. 
(Library of Congress) 

although certainly the latter never regarded her as anything more 
than an occasional and humorous member of his entourage. Ca 
lamity would flit off here and there for some cowboy work or, when 
things were slow, a stint in a whorehouse. 

When she showed up in town, the cry would go up, "Here s 
Calamity!" She would swagger into a saloon and fire her six-gun, 
shattering a mirror now and then. The men loved it; the bartenders 
smiled. It was good for business. 

However, Calamity only became a legend with the death of 
another legend, Hickok, who died in 1876 in Carl Mann s Saloon in 
Deadwood, Dakota Territory, shot in the brain from behind by a 
saddle-bum coward named Jack McCall. The way Calamity told it 
and years later Hollywood preferred it that way it was she who 
cornered McCall later, hiding in a butcher shop, and turned him 

1 52 Cannary, Martha Jane 

over to the forces of justice. By the time Calamity got around to 
compiling her memoirs, she believed her fanciful adventures, sav 
ing army officers from Indians and the like and being dubbed with 
an imposing list of heroic appellations (of which the White Devil of 
the Yellowstone was typical). 

Calamity toured with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and 
various other enterprises, and was the Famous Woman Scout of the 
Wild West! Heroine of a Thousand Thrilling Adventures! The Ter 
ror of Evildoers in the Black Hills! The Comrade of Buffalo Bill 
and Wild Bill! Well ... not quite. She seldom held on to such jobs, 
getting too drunk to go on stage. Hitting a town, she was likely to 
head for a saloon and enter beer-guzzling contests with the boys. 
Calamity was bounced from one public-appearance job after an 
other as too drunk and disorderly to perform. 

If she never married Hickok, Calamity also found time later to 
either marry or not marry others, among them Burke, whq in time 
passed from the scene. Later a Montana newspaper informed its 
readers that Calamity married at least two others, "a young man 
named Washburn who entered the Army, and also . . . a Lt. Sum 
mers, who apparently fathered her daughter." 

No matter with whom she had a liaison at the moment, Calam 
ity could be counted on to provide some entertainment. In 1880 
she took up with Arkansas Tom, a notorious gunfighter, and they 
took in a performance of the Lard Players at the East Lynne Opera 
House in Dead wood. Calamity grew enraged at the conduct in the 
play of Lady Isobel, who eloped with Sir Francis. Suddenly Calam 
ity stood up in the audience and let fly a stream of tobacco juice at 
the offending female. The juice splattered the actress long pink 
dress, and the stage and audience was in a turmoil. The actress 
screamed as the lights went up. Calamity was undeterred. She 
flipped a gold piece on the stage and proclaimed, "That s for your 
damn dress." 

Then she and Arkansas, upholders of morality, strode arm in 
arm up the aisle away from such degeneracy. It must be noted that 
two days later Arkansas Tom was shot to death while robbing a 
bank in a nearby town. 

By the late 1880s, when she was probably not yet 40, Calamity 
drifted from town to town, seldom holding on to any job, save 
whoring, for much length of time. In the 1890s she did several 
more Wild West shows, invariably being fired for drunkenness. By 
now she was reduced to cadging drinks by offering bartenders a 
dog-eared copy of her Autobiography from her duffel bag. 

In 1899 she was back in Deadwood, a grotesque shadow of her 

Cannary, Martha Jane 153 

former self. She had by now a seven-year-old daughter in tow. Folks 
felt sorry for her and held a benefit for her. Calamity forgot the 
child and, in a saloon that night, she guzzled the money away, head 
ing home in the early hours of the morning, howling like a wolf. 

The following year a newspaper editor who knew her in the 
old days found her in a bawdy house and took her into his home to 
recoup her health. In 1901 she was hired to appear at the Pan- 
American Exposition. Calamity celebrated her arrival by destroying 
a bar and blackening the eyes of two policemen. She was fired of 
course but shrugged off further efforts of aid, declaring she wished 
people would "leave me alone and let me go to hell my own way." 

Billings, Montana, saw her the next year, but only for a short 
time. She was run out of town after shooting up a bar. Later that 
year the explorer Louis Freeman ran into her in Yellowstone. He 
bought her several pails of beer and was astounded at how she 
polished them off. He judged her to be a woman of at least 70. 

Although she was nowhere near that, her hard-living years 
were catching up with her. Enfeebled of body and mind, she was 
most often tired of the fabricated role she had played for so many 
years. Still, early in the summer of 1903, she visited Wild Bill s grave 
in Deadwood and posed for a famous photo. She was able to peddle 
a goodly number of copies of her autobiography. 

In early August, she lay dying of pneumonia in a hotel in Terry, 
a town not far from Deadwood. On August 2, her eyes fluttered 
open, and she asked the date. "It s the 27th anniversary of Bill s 
death," she said. "Bury me next to Bill." 

Alas, Calamity lingered until August 3 before dying, but that 
didn t matter. They buried her as she requested and recorded the 
date as August 2. The West believed in doing right by its characters. 

154 Goodall, Nick 

Goodall, Nick (1849?-1884) 


It is said that the greatest violinist of the 19th century, superior 
perhaps to Niccolo Paganini, ended his days in the Jefferson 
County, New York, almshouse, never having achieved, because of 
his many idiosyncracies, the acclaim he richly deserved. The fa 
mous Norwegian violinist Ole Bull once heard him play and pro 
claimed, "The man s a genius!" 

His name was Nick Goodall, far better known as Nick the 
Fiddler, and he lived for many years in the Watertown-Elmira area 
in New York. There still are old-timers who repeat stories about 
him told by their elders. Most certainly he was a genius, albeit a 
mad genius, perhaps. 

Biographers have found it frustrating to trace Nick s early life. 
One popular version which may have some truthful elements in it 
was that he was born in 1849, either in the United States or in 
England. His father was a first violinist in the orchestra at Ford s 
Theater in Washington, and he was playing when Lincoln was as 
sassinated by Booth. Young Nick was present at the time and was 
so unhinged by the happening that he had to be sent to an asylum. 
Discharged some years later, he became a wandering violinist 
mostly in New York State. 

A variant of this story is that at the age of eight Nick was a 
child prodigy who had toured Europe until brought to this country 
by his father. President and Mrs. Lincoln supposedly saw him per 
form in Washington and were suitably impressed. Or else, to 
change the story slightly, forget the Ford s Theater connection and 
say simply that Nick s father was his violin instructor, and he was 
such a severe taskmaster that his cruelties snapped Nick s mind. Or 
instead, place father and son in Boston, where the father caused 
him to practice 12 to 15 hours a day, a regimen that led later to 
Nick s "softness" of the brain. Now convert the father into a stern 
instructor in the 1st Marine Corps Band and have Nick simply run 
away from him and his harsh orders. All of these are theories ad 
vanced by various writers of the day. 

Whatever Nick the Fiddler s origin was, there is no doubt of his 
great gift. Nick knew the worth of his hands and continually kept 
them wrapped in bandages, explaining they were sore. As a result 

Goodall, Nick 155 

his hands remained as soft and pliable as those of a babe. And 
when he played, audiences were enraptured. He was often asked to 
perform at church concerts, but whether he would show up or, if 
he did, whether he would stick to the promised music was a matter 
in the hands of the Almighty. At one church affair, after having 
been admonished to play only sacred tunes, Nick broke into such 
melodies as "Pop Goes the Weasel" and "The Girl I Left Behind 
Me." Yet on other occasions, in churches, indeed in taverns, country 
stores, in hotel lobbies, wherever the impulse struck him, Nick 
would hold listeners enthralled to the works of Chopin, Liszt, Bach, 
Brahms, Berlioz, Beethoven, and Paganini. 

Once, Ole Bull, the most renowned violinist of the era, was 
giving a concert in Elmira. Told of Nick the Fiddler, he agreed to 
hear him play. A performance was arranged in an empty theater, 
and Nick sat silently on the stage, staring off into space, unmindful 
of Bull. Bull waited some 15 minutes, but the eccentric fiddler did 
not begin. As Bull rose to leave, Nick drew his bow. For three hours 
Nick s violin sang eloquently, and Bull sat unmoving. After the per 
formance, Bull made his famous evaluation of Nick the Fiddler as 
a genius. 

Shortly after this, a theatrical promoter named Nichols decided 
to launch Nick on a one-man musical tour. Nick agreed and the 
first performance took place in Troy, New York, before a packed 
house. For two hours Nick the Fiddler thrilled the audience, and 
the manager finally attempted to close the brilliantly successful 
performance. He reckoned without Nick, who had agreed to play, 
and play he intended to do. On and on the performance went until 
slowly the audience started to leave in small groups. Some time after 
midnight the last of the audience had departed, but Nick fiddled 
on. He would have fiddled even if Troy burned. The night watch 
man dropped off to sleep, but the strains of Nick s music continued 
the entire night. Finally with the first rays of the sun, Nick put down 
his violin and trudged off over the hills for Elmira. His grand tour 
ended after one long, long night. 

Thereafter, no promoter dared present Nick the Fiddler in 
concert alone, not knowing if he would play or, if he did, if he would 
ever stop. Nick fiddled to his own drummer. Conductor Milan 
Lewis did feature the eccentric violinist in concerts in upstate New 
York, but in some cases the program had to proceed without Nick, 
who simply refused to play. In Malone, New York, Lewis found Nick 
shooting pool in the poolroom of a hotel. He actually took a horse 
whip in hand to drive the great musician to the concert. Other 

156 Kusz, Charles 

promoters and conductors fared little better with Nick, who would 
sometimes sit on stage and take 20 minutes to slowly tune 
his violin. 

Nick, it must be said, really did not like to perform on stage, 
much preferring to trudge from village to village, playing when the 
mood hit (most often at the local tavern, where he would be re 
warded with unlimited brew). The villagers would swarm to hear 
him play. If he didn t feel like it, there was no pleading with him, 
for he never responded to such invitations. However, when he 
played, the rapture was complete, unparalleled. A silence fell, and 
only the magic of Nick s violin would be heard. 

Nick cared nothing for money or his appearance. He dressed 
plainly, with a red flannel rag around his neck and thick, leather- 
laced hiking shoes on, winter and summer. In later years Nick 
performed less and less, and in the end he was taken in at the 
almshouse. When he died at the age of 35, he was given a pauper s 
funeral. It was said, fittingly, that the cost of his burial and grave 
came to less than the price his violin was sold for. 

Kusz, Charles (1849-1884) 


By all known criteria, Charles Kusz was no more than your normal, 
everyday bigot until he headed west in 1875, at the age of 26. He 
had hated huge segments of the population previously, but it was 
only after making a fabulous mining strike in Colorado that he 
enjoyed the ability to feed his prejudices to the fullest. Taking 
$150,000 in profits, he left Colorado for New Mexico Territory, 
heading for the then-thriving mining and cattle town of Monzano, 
where he went into newspaper publishing. 

Personal journalism in 19th-century America was often 
marked by bigotry, vendettas, and vitriolic sentiments seldom al 
lowed published in the 20th century; even so caustic a publisher as 
William Loeb of the Manchester, N.H., Union-Leader, who typically 
referred to Henry Kissinger in print as "Kissinger the Kike," would 
have seemed a scoutmaster compared to Kusz. 

Rusz, Charles 157 

Kusz s newspaper was titled The Gringo and the Greaser, embrac 
ing the nicknames used by the Mexicans and Americans respec 
tively to disparage one another. The entire paper was printed in 
italics, a style Kusz felt to be both necessary and appropriate; since 
he wrote the entire contents, he thought every word of his prose 
was worthy of emphasis. 

Kusz never met a Mexican or "greaser" he liked, and he made 
a point of saying so, applauding every bullet-ridden Latino corpse 
in each issue of his rag. The same was true of cowboys (he used the 
words cowboys and rustlers interchangeably). He reflected the 
"townie" attitude of the era; cowboys were supposed to come off 
the trail to be gouged by the businessmen, saloon keepers, and 
gamblers of the town, then slink off quietly after being stripped of 
all their pay. Second only to Mexicans, Kusz hated all Roman Cath 
olics, filling his columns with diatribes on Romanism. He also at 
tacked local schoolteachers and the entire educational system of the 
region, finding it hard, apparently, to accept the idea of free school 
ing that allowed so much riffraff into the educational process. 

Kusz was an embarrassment to the entire community, even to 
those who agreed with his brand of Americanism. They were never 
sure when Kusz s stomach would turn over some other group or 
ideas, his venom spewing forth in hot type. 

On the evening of March 26, 1884, Kusz was at home having 
dinner with a friend where he found one can only be specu 
lated when two rifle bullets crashed through the window, killing 
him. Considering the number of logical suspects, it was hardly sur 
prising that the murder was never solved. It was left for Western 
historian Denis McLoughlin to offer the most logical solution of the 
crime. The killer most likely was, he asserted, "a gringo, a greaser, 
a Roman Catholic, a rustler, or a schoolteacher; elementary." 

158 Garrett, Henrietta Edwardina Schaefer 

Garrett, Henrietta Edwardina Schaefer 


When 81 -year-old Henrietta Edwardina Schaefer Garrett died in 
her musty Victorian mansion in Philadelphia in 1930, she left a 
tribute to unrequited love, the real-life equal of that in Dickens 
Great Expectations. Henrietta had lived for 35 years in the past and 
had allowed her grand house to turn dilapidated. 

Progress had stopped in the house with the death, in 1895, of 
her husband Walter Garrett, heir to the formidable Garrett snuff 
fortune. Henrietta kept the mansion as it had been when her be 
loved Walter was alive. He had not enjoyed electricity or the tele 
phone, and Henrietta was determined to have nothing she could 
not have shared with him. She threw a temper tantrum, it was said, 
at the suggestion that a leaky copper tub be replaced by a modern 
one. Even the servants had to play their roles, wearing the long 
Victorian dresses and high-button shoes of Gay Nineties vintage. 

When Henrietta married Garrett, 18 years her senior, in 1872, 
it was the stuff of fairy tales. She was the daughter of immigrants 
living in a ramshackle house in Freed s Alley in a Philadelphia slum. 
They met only because Garrett had joined the volunteer fire com 
pany in which her brother was also a member. Their marriage 
shocked the city s social set and many people, including Garrett s 
two sisters, snubbed the couple. The groom angrily separated him 
self from all his old social and business ties, devoting himself to 
pleasing his new bride. 

Henrietta often spoke of their union as being idyllic, save for 
the fact that they remained childless. Perhaps if there had been 
children, she would have gotten over the loss of her husband after 
23 years of marriage. 

Grief-stricken, she withdrew from life, rarely leaving the man 
sion and decreeing that all her beloved Walter s possessions be left 
undisturbed. Apparently, she even hesitated to spend money now 
that her husband could no longer enjoy their wealth. For 20 years 
after Garrett s death, Henrietta seldom was seen outside the man 
sion, and when her brother, her last close relative, died in 1913, she 
turned into a total recluse. 

The only traffic from the mansion of Ninth Street was that of 
one of her three servants, her cook, housemaid, or personal maid, 

Garrett, Henrietta Edwardina Schaefer 159 

off on some money-saving errand. Henrietta would send them 
blocks just to save a penny on a loaf of bread. Quite naturally, the 
belief spread among the public, and with her servants as well, that 
the widow had lost in the stock market most of the $7 million 
fortune she had inherited. That was untrue. By the time she died 
in 1930, Henrietta s fortune, through canny investments by a bro 
ker named Charles Starr, had grown to $17 million. Starr later 
claimed Henrietta s estate, producing a letter of hers which he pur 
ported to be a will. It left him everything but a meager $62,500 in 
other bequests. Starr s claim was only one of a staggering total of 
3,500 from alleged kinsmen of either Henrietta or Walter Garrett. 
The finding of a pair of moldy baby shoes among the late widow s 
possessions produced hundreds of claims from alleged children of 
the couple. 

A rumor spread that Henrietta s personal maid, Carthage 
Churchville, spiteful that her mistress had left her so little, had 
hidden the widow s will in her coffin. By that time Carthage herself 
had died and could not deny the story, so Henrietta s coffin was 
opened by court order. Inside was Henrietta, clad in Victorian 
black, but no will. 

Several gigantic hoaxes involving forgeries of family Bibles and 
the like were exposed. Court case piled on court case until all but 
two claims were disallowed, and even one of those became an inter 
national cause celebre. After legal costs of about $3 million, it was 
decided that Henrietta had had three first cousins: Johann Schafer, 
ex-mayor of Bad Nauheim, Germany; Howard Kretchmar, a Chi 
cago osteopath; and Herman Kretschmar, a St. Louis bachelor who 
once did five years in prison on a murder charge. All three men 
died in their nineties but had survived Henrietta. In 1939, the Nazi 
government made a formal demand for Schafer s share of the es 
tate, but while the case was pending, World War II broke out. In 
1946, the U.S. government laid claim to Schafer s legacy as a "spoil 
of war." 

In time the United States won its claim of $4 million, and the 
Kretschmar heirs got the remaining $8 million. The legal case tran 
scripts concerning Henrietta s estate ran over a half million type 
written pages. There is little doubt that the grieving widow of Ninth 
Street would have cared nothing about it all As far as she was 
concerned the world had stopped revolving back in 1895, when her 
husband died. 

160 Matthews, Robert 

Matthews, Robert (ft early 1800s) 

About 1820 a young carpenter named Robert Matthews drifted 
into New York City from some unknown country hamlet. It soon 
developed that he considered himself to be the second most impor 
tant carpenter in history. New Yorkers, then as now, were a fast- 
moving lot, and they paid him little mind. And so the carpenter 
moved on to Albany, New York. 

There he became known as a bad egg on the job, lecturing his 
fellow workers and supervisors alike for their evil ways. It got so 
that his fellows rained down blocks of wood on him whenever he 
started one of his harangues. Not surprisingly, Matthews got fired 
from several jobs; he viewed this as a God-given opportunity to 
pursue his exhortations full time. On street corners he warned the 
burghers of Albany that they faced cataclysmic disaster, unless they 
followed his lead. He let his beard grow long and biblical, put on 
grotesque clothing, and took for himself the name of Matthias. 

The prophet, it must be granted, made one convert, an ador 
ing fellow workman who accompanied him carrying a large white 
banner inscribed: "Rally Round the Standard of Truth." But Al 
bany did not rally. 

Matthias shook his fist at Albany, and the vengeful prophet left 
the city to its certain fate of coming damnation. Matthias moved 
westward, through forest and on to the prairies, preaching his gos 
pel Cutting back to the Southeast, he visited Mississippi and Ten 
nessee, and then went on to Georgia, where he preached to the 
Cherokee Indians. Somehow the Georgia authorities did not appre 
ciate the stirring up of their Indians, and Matthias was hurled 
into prison. 

Only when Matthias promised to leave Georgia and take his 
message up to the wicked North was he released. So Matthias 
moved on to Washington, where he was totally ignored. But this 
was not so when he once more reached New York City. By now he 
traveled on an old, half-starved horse; he warned the citizenry of 
the sins of intemperance that would doom New York, as it had 
already doomed Albany. When was Albany going to sink into the 
flames? he was asked, and he replied, "Soon. Soon!" 

In their own fashion New Yorkers took to Matthias the Impos- 

Ferguson, Jack; and Wells, Pete 1 6 1 

tor, as they dubbed him. He became one of the sights of the city 
that locals took their out-of-town visitors to see. Matthias obliged 
with fierce looks and prodigious exhortations, as he paraded 
through the city with hordes of small boys following him. Some 
times they pelted him with garbage, and Matthias would look sky 
ward occasionally and implore the Father to forgive them, for they 
knew not what they did. More often, he indicated he would arrange 
to send them to a very special place in Hell. In fact, Matthias 
warned that he might just have to go West once more to rally the 
red men against the white heathens. 

Eventually Matthias the Impostor stepped into the mists. We 
do not know whither he indeed carried his message of vengeance 
to the Indian; but it is a fact that for the next half century the white 
man s woes with the Indians were monumental 

Jack; and Wells, Pete 
(fl. mid-19th century) 


During the great Gold Rush that started in 1859 in Colorado, it 
became common for miners who struck it rich to react in bizarre 
manners to their new stations in life. However, a special niche must 
be reserved amongst the mindless, devil-may-care prospectors for 
two illiterate old gold hunters, Jack Ferguson and Pete Wells, who 
found the richest gold pocket in California Gulch in the early 1860s, 
which brought in for them a "panful of almost pure gold in a day." 

Fortunately the pair was ideally suited to each other. If one was 
a spendthrift, it only made him the image of the other. Each 
evening the pair repaired to the saloons of Oro City, and when they 
returned home in the early hours of the morning it was "without a 
color in their possession." What nuggets Ferguson could not squan 
der on drink, Wells lost at the gaming tables. 

We have the account of a fellow miner to attest to Ferguson 
and Wells frivolous attitude toward gold. Ferguson invited the 
miner to his shack, which consisted of nothing more than a filthy 

162 Ferguson, Jack; and Wells, Pete 

bunk against one wall and a washstand with equally dirty toweling 
against the other. The miner recounts: 

"Ferguson went to the stand and, pushing the cloth aside, re 
vealed a gold washing pan full of nuggets. I would not undertake 
to say how much yellow stuff there was, but there could not have 
been less than $10,000. He then produced a bag five or six inches 
deep, and taking a small spice scoop, filled up the bag. Again I am 
unable to name the sum, but the bag could not have held less than 
$800 or $900. . . . Such a bonanza did these two appear to be pos 
sessed of, that their gambler friends built a saloon and gambling 
house on the very brink of their claim so as to make sure of having 
first access to the wealth these two were taking out and squandering 

Needless to say, the gamblers stuck to the eccentric prospectors 
until at last their find was exhausted. Ferguson and Wells departed 
the Gulch penniless; they were still, however, the closest of friends, 
neither berating the other for squandering a hoard that could have 
kept them in comfort for the rest of their lives. 

Logically, this should be the end of their sad tale, one entitling 
them to honored entry in the folklore of the gold fields, but there 
is more: Ferguson and Wells struck a new Eldorado, across the high 
Mosquito Range in South Park. There, in a bleak gorge above the 
timberline at the source of the South Platte, they hit yellow. Word 
made its way back to Oro City, and soon the gamblers and saloon 
keepers packed their gear and took out in pursuit of the pair. 

For a time this new mining camp at Montgomery burst into an 
opulence of riches, and Ferguson and Wells had a new chance to 
achieve security and wealth. Of course, that didn t happen. They 
had too many barkeeps and tinhorns to support. When Montgom 
ery s day of fortune passed and withered away, Ferguson and 
Wells the Damon and Pythias of the gold fields faded away into 
serene obscurity. 

Higginbotham, Joe 1 63 

Higginbotham, Joe (fl mid-19th century) 

Like another nomadic prospector named Dan Pound (q.v.), Joe 
Higginbotham, called Buckskin Joe because he always wore buck 
skins, wandered the high mountain country of Colorado in search 
of gold during the Rush of 59. However, he was at heart not a 
prospector but a man seeking the freedom of solitude. 

The world Buckskin Joe craved was that consisting of a burro, 
bag of beans, water cans, pick, shovel, gun, and blanket. He loved 
this new land, and he loved the mountains; he undoubtedly reveled 
in being the first white man, maybe even ahead of the red man, to 
explore this particular mountain or to happen onto that small valley 
or drink from this spring. No one thought Buckskin Joe queer. 
After all, he was prospecting and that meant "goin where others 
ain t." 

Imagine Higginbotham s surprise . . . no, horror . . . when he 
awoke one morning by a huge rock he had used as a windbreak 
during the night, and he caught the unmistakable glint of gold in 
some crevices. Just below was a stream and sure enough, there was 
gold, lots of it, in the water too. This was exactly how many claims 
were found by pure blind luck. 

Joe got hold of a jug and got himself liquored up and promptly 
told the first prospector he ran into of his find. Higginbotham 
knew what he was doing. Soon men would be all over the area 
mining for gold. In fact, the mining camp was named Buckskin Joe 
in honor of its discoverer. Not that that meant anything to Higgin 
botham; hehadlongvanished, never earningfor himself evenan ounce 
of gold. 

Happily, there was still unmapped country out there, where 
the true richness of life could be found. And while men dug and 
fought and killed back in Buckskin Joe, Buckskin Joe himself was 
trudging the wilderness. What he was seeking, perhaps even he did 
not know, but he was content. He could hardly care that back in 
Buckskin Joe they were calling him a "crazy coot." 

164 Pound, Dan 

Pound, Dan (fl mid-19th century) 

They were dubbed prospectors or desert rats, but among them 
were many who were more like hermits, eager to escape civilization. 
As disguise, these men called by Irving Stone the "breed of 
hunter-nomad who pretend to search for gold but do not really 
want to find it" went about with their jackasses, picks, shovels, 
guns, and blanket rolls. They lived in the great outdoors, hunted 
and survived on game. When they so much as saw smoke curling 
upward on the horizon, they moved on, viewing it, whether of white 
or red man s origin, as the unwelcome sign of civilization. 

Grizzled Daniel Pound was one of these, having for years pros 
pected, first in the California hills apparently and later, in 1859, in 
the Pike s Peak area of Colorado. He carried through his hoax of 
prospecting to the extent of sometimes even building sluice boxes 
to wash out the dirt from the rocks he mined. It made for a cover 
story that indicated there was nothing queer about him, that he led 
his solitary life because of a need for secrecy to protect his potential 
finds. What Pound was really searching for was solitude. 

But even in the mountain paradise where few men trod, some 
times another prospector, one serious about his vocation, found 
him. One day in South Park, a prospector gazed into Pound s pan 
and cried; "You ve got gold there!" 

"The hell you say," Pound answered. It was for him the mo 
ment of truth. Pound kicked over his sluice boxes, loaded his pick, 
shovel, blanket roll, and rifle on his patient burro and disappeared 
deeper into the mountains. (See Higginbotham, Joe.) 

Collins, Lizzie 165 

Colling Lizzie (ft 185Qs-186Q) 


For a time in antebellum New Orleans it was considered great 
evening sport among the young blades of the city to get one of their 
number drunk, cut off all the buttons on his trousers, and deposit 
him on the doorstep of his lady friend. The inebriated youth would 
then have much to explain. He would have to claim most vehe 
mently and convincingly that he was the victim of a prank and that 
he had not been carousing with the city s lowest of low women on 
Gallatin Street. 

A man losing his buttons was at the time one of the well-publi 
cized perils of hitting the fleshpots. The more sensational newspa 
pers of the day delighted in reporting the craze; a mania for cutting 
off buttons was attributed to one of the city s most notorious pros 

Lizzie Collins was one of the more enticing harlots of notorious 
Gallatin St., famed from the 1840s for some four decades as being 
without a single house of good repute on its entire two-block length. 
Lizzie worked the dance houses and other brothels of the area, and 
she could have done exceptionally well as a dedicated yet honest 
practitioner of her art. However Lizzie was by nature a thief and 
revelled in robbing her clients. 

In one celebrated court case she was charged with appropriat 
ing the purse of a Louisiana farmer who imparted to her the intel 
ligence that he had $110 in gold bound to his leg with a 
handkerchief. While he viewed Lizzie as a creature of a most deli 
cate nature, he sagely refused to drink with her in her place of 
employment of the moment Archie Murphy s renowned dive. 
However, when Lizzie invited him to come upstairs with her, the 
farmer accepted promptly. 

As they marched into Lizzie s darkened chamber, three other 
women pounced on him and wrestled him to the floor, whereupon 
Lizzie poured rotgut whiskey down his throat. She covered his 
mouth, so that the man could either swallow the vile brew or choke. 
In due course, Lizzie s victim was drunk and defenseless, and she 
appropriated his money, then summoned the bouncers from the 
bar downstairs to have him heaved into the gutter. 

The farmer, unlike so many other victims, actually pressed the 
case against Lizzie but could prove nothing against her; she was 

166 Collins, Lizzie 

released, although the newspapers seized the opportunity to warn 
their readers to beware of Gallatin Street and especially Lizzie 

Shortly after this affair, Lizzie proceeded to "go bad," as the 
saying went in vice circles, although in a most unique fashion. She 
developed the peculiar mania of inviting men to her room and not 
taking their money. Instead, she would exhaust them into sleep and 
then cut the buttons off their pants and hide them away. In no time 
at all she had the biggest button collection in New Orleans but 
very little money. 

When she could no longer pay her rent, Archie Murphy kicked 
her out. Lizzie found other assignations only to continue her odd 
behavior of collecting buttons instead of cash, and thus she faced 
regular evictions. When the Union troops occupied New Orleans in 
1862, Lizzie accumulated a very fine collection of military buttons, 
undoubtedly so monumental that a present-day Civil War collector 
would drool over such a trove. 

However, Lizzie s vice days in New Orleans were clearly num 
bered and, as Herbert Asbury, noted historian of America s most 
sinful cities, once observed, "Her reputation in Gallatin Street was 
very bad. The general opinion was that while a man might be will 
ing to take a chance with his money, his buttons should be sacred." 

Lizzie s notoriety became so widespread that it was said that a 
gentleman feared so much as asking his wife to sew back a single 
button on his attire that had come loose. Soon of course there was 
no place in New Orleans for her, and Lizzie Collins eventually 
deserted the city with a wagonload of her possessions, made up, 
tradition has it, mainly of buttons. 

Parkhurst, Charlie 167 

Par khurcst Charlie (?-1879) 


He was one of the hardest-driving, six-in-hand stagecoach drivers 
in the Old West, famed for his skill in negotiating his Concord over 
the rugged trails of California s Sierra Nevada. Charlie Parkhurst 
turned up in Gold Rush country around 1850. Little was known 
about his early days, other than what he told folks in bits and 
snatches. As a youngster in the 1830s, Charlie, orphaned for as 
long as he could remember, ran away from a New Hampshire or 
phanage. He became a stableboy in Worcester, Massachusetts, 
where he learned the art of driving a team of horses at breakneck 

Eventually Charlie pulled up stakes and headed west, finally 
holding the "ribbons" for the California Stage Company in 1851, 
carving out a heroic reputation for himself. If a stage was running 
late, Charlie could take over the run and get it on time again. He d 
have himself a dram, light up a cigar, flex his broad shoulders and, 
slashing away with his whip, take his Concord "a-flyin ." 

Charlie was pretty much of a loner in his personal life and, 
although he would get liquored up and chew tobacco with the other 
drivers, he tended to sleep alone in the stables away from them. He 
never went "a-whorin j " at a hog ranch with the rest of the boys 
either, but the fact that he made a fetish out of shaving every day 
led to the belief that he had himself a little lady tucked away some 
where on one of his runs. 

On the trail Charlie was king of the road. His heroism, border 
ing sometimes on foolhardiness, became legendary. Once ap 
proaching a tottering bridge, he whipped his horses fiercely, 
determined not to be thrown off schedule. The stagecoach thun 
dered safely over the bridge just moments before it collapsed. High 
waymen gave Charlie s Concord a wide berth after he demonstrated 
his proficiency with firearms a few times. One gang of road agents 
made the mistake of trying to hold up his stage, and Charlie 
gunned down the leader and outran the others, bringing in his 
passengers and cargo untouched. 

In 1870 a gray-haired Charlie Parkhurst retired because of 
illness. He lived out his remaining years in a small cabin near Wat- 
sonville in Santa Cruz County. He died in December 1879, and 

168 Bethune, Thomas Greene 

friends who found the body summoned a doctor to ascertain the 
cause of death. The doctor did, finding the deceased had been a 
victim of cancer, but he also made a more startling revelation. Char 
lie was a woman, indeed at some time in her life had been a mother, 
whether in her California days or previously was impossible to de 
termine. Nobody quite knew what to do about the stage driver with 
a strange secret, but it seemed only proper to bury her under the 
only name by which she had been known. 

Bethune, Thomas Greene (1850-1908) 


The field of music is noted for a number of composers and per 
formers, famed or infamous, who fall under the classification of 
"mad genius." Certainly Italy s castrati singers, such as Carlo Bros- 
chi Farinelli, were almost as well known for their erratic behavior 
and the severe melancholia they suffered as a result of their castra 
tion as for their sweet soprano voices. 

Equally exploited in 19th century America was a young black 
slave named Thomas Greene Bethune. He was blind and had, at 
best, a low-grade mentality; he was also subject to periodic fits of 
misbehavior, but he was nonetheless lionized as a genius. 

In slaveholding America, plantation owners greedily counted 
their annual crop of babies born to their slaves. These infants rep 
resented future earnings for farmers; and so, when Perry H. Oliver 
of Muscogee County, Georgia, had a female slave who gave birth to 
a son in 1850, his initial reaction was one of satisfaction until he 
discovered the baby, although generally well-proportioned and 
hardy, was totally blind. 

Disgusted, Oliver put the mother up for auction, and when she 
was bought by General James Bethune, he threw in rather cun 
ningly he thought the blind child for no extra charge. More kindly 
than most slave owners, Bethune took the baby back to his planta 
tion, named him Thomas Greene Bethune, and gave him the run 
of the place, allowing him to remain around the mansion. 

Bethune, Thomas Greene 169 

Bethune soon noticed that Blind Tom seemed to compensate 
for his sightlessness with a brilliant sense of hearing. The boy was 
fascinated by all sounds rainwater dripping into a puddle, various 
farm implements grinding away. 

When the boy was four years old, Bethune bought a piano for 
his daughters, and whenever the girls played, Blind Tom was drawn 
as if by a magnet to the big house. One night after the family 
retired, Bethune awakened to hear music coming from the drawing 
room. When he investigated, he found the room black yet the music 
continued. Then Bethune s candle flickered its light on Blind Tom 
playing away, far, far better than Bethune ever heard his own chil 
dren perform. 

Bethune did not punish Blind Tom but urged him to use the 
piano whenever he wished, and the boy did so, especially when 
someone played something new. He immediately played it right 
back. Realizing Blind Tom had a rare genius, Bethune imported a 
professional teacher from Columbus to instruct the boy. The musi 
cian listened to Blind Tom play and threw up his hands, announc 
ing he could do nothing for him. "That boy," he said, "already 
knows more about music than I will ever know." 

It developed that Blind Tom had merely to hear a musical 
selection of any length just once and he could sit down and 
repeat it flawlessly. At the age of seven Tom made his concert debut 
in Columbus to enthusiastic applause. With each passing year Tom 
added to his repertoire, until he could play 5,000 compositions 
from memory, including the works of Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, 
Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn, Gounod, and 
many others. 

In 1860 skeptics, suspecting some sort of fakery, decided to 
put Tom to the ultimate test. They offered him two brand-new 
compositions, 13 and 20 pages in length. Tom listened to them 
intently and then proceeded to perform both effortlessly. When 
Tom was 12 a Virginia musician produced an original 14-page fan 
tasia, demanding that Tom play secundo to his treble. The young 
virtuoso did so, then pushed the composer aside and repeated the 

Tom was taken on a triumphant tour of Europe, where he 
demonstrated his brilliant piano ability with a perfect sense of 
pitch. At one performance three pianos were played at once, with 
two pianists banging away nonsensically on two of them while a 
third ran through a series of 20 notes that Tom was to repeat. 
Completely shutting out the outside influences, Tom did so easily. 

It must be said that Blind Tom was sadly exploited for his 

170 Sutliffjohn 

talents. He was never exposed to general learning, for fear he 
would lose his uncanny ability. As a result his total vocabulary never 
exceeded more than a few hundred words, and his voice was harsh 
and guttural. He shuffled along with his head thrown far back, as 
though he were searching for some view of light from above. 

Tom was given to fits of rage and only two things could calm 
him down General Bethune or the playing of music. After such 
fits had been calmed, Tom would sit down and play. When finished, 
he arose and applauded himself wildly, jumping up and down with 
glee behavior he often repeated on stage. 

When General Bethune died, Blind Tom became incorrigible. 
Often even music failed to soothe him. He had to be withdrawn 
from the concert stage and, when he died in Hoboken, New Jersey, 
in 1908, he was a bitter shell of a genius, still famed but often 
irrational. To the world of music his ability remains an enigma. To 
the public he remained known as something between a gifted prod 
igy and a sad freak. 

ll Jok (fL 19th century) 


Back at the start of the 19th century, John Sutliff of Plymouth, 
Connecticut, was a very successful miller. But for years folks knew 
he was up to something, though he never let on what. Word got 
around he was doing some strange digging in a mountain behind 
his mill. Sometimes farmers, wanting to have their corn ground, 
had to wait an additional half an hour while an assistant summoned 
Mr. Sutliff with a clanging bell at the entrance of a shaft opening 
he had dug in the mountain. 

It was many years before Sutliff revealed to anyone what he 
was doing and why. It seemed he had discovered how, whether by 
vision, luck, or some other method, he would not say that the 
mountain was loaded with gold, silver, and other precious metals in 
a liquid state. Once he found these pools he had but to ladle out his 
liquid treasure and live thereafter in luxury. He had started digging 

Sutliffjohn 171 

while in his twenties and was still at it in his forties, utilizing all the 
free time he had for what had become the overriding obsession of 
his life. 

Sutliff did not have the luxury of dynamite to ease his labors, 
nor was he much on the rules of surveying that would have kept 
him on a straight course. Whenever he hit a massive underground 
boulder, he simply burrowed around it, often failing to compensate 
for his detour. The result was that, after more than two decades of 
digging, it was not at all certain how far he had penetrated into his 
treasure mountain. 

Then one day a townsman heard a noise under the turnpike 
leading to the mill. He halted his buggy and then watched in 
amazement as a wheel started sinking into the ground. The man 
kept a shovel in his buggy and began digging and came upon . . . 
Mr. Sutliff, the mountain mole. Unfortunately, Mr. Sutliff had to 
tally detoured and now was digging further and further away from 
his treasure mountain. Mr. Sutliff s chagrin, needless to say, became 
Plymouth s favorite tale for years. 

Sutliff s disappointment was great but he was made of stern 
New England stuff. He simply backtracked in his tunnel and dug 
again in another direction, into the mountain, he hoped. 

Alas, after yet another two decades, he still had not found his 
great treasure. By then the weakness of old age forced him to cease 
what had become more than 40 years of frantic digging. Retired to 
his rocker, old Mr. Sutliff maintained his dream. Whenever a lad 
owed him something for services rendered, Mr. Sutliff would offer 
to let the youth work off his debt by digging in his tunnel. Alas, 
even such surrogates had no better luck than Connecticut s human 
mole and when he died, the liquid hoard of his treasure mountain 
remained untapped, as it does to this day. 

172 Curran, John 

Curraa Jok (fl late 19th century) 

The "jail groupie" was a fairly common sideshow at almost every 
large American jail of the 19th century. These were persons with 
no official status who were attracted to prison surroundings and 
found ways to meld into the bleak scenery. Few however matched 
old John Curran, who became a sort of unofficial guide in the 
Tombs, the much-storied old prison in New York City. 

Nobody seemed to know where he came from, just that all of a 
sudden in the early 1870s there he was. He reported to the Tombs 
every morning and started sweeping up. He ran errands for offi 
cers and prisoners alike, and was clearly a lost old man for whom 
the Tombs became a home. For his sundry favors, Old John was 
allowed to conduct tours of the Tombs, offering awed visitors star 
tling insight into the seamy side of the prison world. Old John never 
failed to impress; being a compulsive liar helped enormously, of 

Curran made up tales and legends about the jail and its in 
mates. Once he informed visitors that a certain distinguished-look 
ing minister in the corridor of Murderers Row had just been 
charged with heaving his mother-in-law out a third-story window 
in an outburst of unchristian behavior. Actually, the padre was a 
leading, and indeed a most moderate churchman, there to offer 
spiritual support to a number of the condemned. 

Old John did well financially with the revenues from such in 
formative tours, as well as through the sale of what he called "pieces 
from the gallows on which fifty were hanged." Old John simply 
gathered up lumber wherever he could find some for this purpose. 

Despite his rascality, Old John was especially popular with pris 
oners awaiting execution, and he earnestly believed he was an angel 
of mercy who could save them. For this purpose he peddled magical 
charms of various sorts to ward off the executioner. Sometimes 
indeed the talismans did work, as a condemned man received a 
commutation of his sentence; Old John would be ecstatic. Usually, 
however, they had to keep their date with the hangman, a devel 
opment that Curran sometimes took as a personal affront. He 
might disappear for a few days of mourning. When he reappeared, 
however, he would be sporting a supply of old clothes, which he d 

Riley, James 173 

assure gullible customers had been part of the dead man s ward 

From time to time a new prison administration sought to bar 
Old John from the premises as an unseemly eccentric in an institu 
tion of justice. Curran invariably foiled their directives by finding a 
way to sneak through the forbidding walls of the prison, leading 
one journalist to observe that the Tombs was easier to break into 
than out of. There was a considerable body of public opinion that 
felt Old John should be permitted his duties at the jail, that he was 
an old man who otherwise would most likely become a public ward 
if not, in time, a resident at Matteawan, the state institution for the 
insane. Eventually, each warden bowed to this sentiment. 

In 1897 the Old Tombs was ordered torn down to be replaced 
by a more modern structure on the same site. Old John was fre 
quently seen standing forlorn outside the deserted prison as the 
razing began. What happened to him is unknown. One story had 
it that he retired to a remote farm in the far reaches of Maine. 
Another, more fitting perhaps, had him dying of a broken heart at 
the loss of his iron-barred home. 

Riley, Jame<s "Butt" (late 19th century) 

Like San Francisco s Oofty Goofty (q.v.), James Riley, better known 
as Butt Riley, was famed for his peculiar physical prowess. When he 
lost that, his mental deficiencies, so the observation went, came to 
the fore. Riley was one of San Francisco s most vicious hoodlums, 
and indeed the police dubbed him King of the Hoodlums. Unlike 
other gangsters he eschewed the use of a gun, insisting he had a 
more potent weapon his head. He claimed he possessed the thick 
est skull in Christendom, and he demonstrated this by using it in 
all sorts of criminal endeavors. 

Leading a mob of hoodlums on a looting raid on Chinese 
opium houses, he batted down the doors, using his head as a pile 

174 Riley, James 

driver. He also engaged in numerous fights and butting contests 
(once butting a 160-pound man exactly 10 feet in the air). In time 
this overuse of Riley s skull caused him to walk around talking to 
himself, but even in his dim-wittedness, no one accepted the chal 
lenge to go head to head with him. 

Riley had other physical attributes that added to his fame. He 
was handsome indeed and was much sought after by the prostitutes 
of the Barbary Coast in the late 1860s, when he had not even as yet 
obtained his majority. He boasted that when he granted his favors, 
he reversed the natural order of things and collected payment from 
the lady. The great hardhead even went so far as to sell photos of 
himself to the inmates of the brothels, each Monday marching 
through the Barbary Coast area with a loaded satchel of his latest 
poses, which sold for 25 cents "straight" and 50 cents nude. Many a 
harlot kept framed photos of Butt Riley over her bed, which was, - 
according to legend, extremely disconcerting to a number of clients. 

Riley also garnered quite a bit of money by betting 50 cents or 
a dollar on whether he could splinter doors of various thickness. 
Finally, he won five dollars for butting a hole in a door made of 
heavy oak timbers, but the consequence was a very severe headache. 
He was frightened further when, immediately thereafter, a couple 
of female admirers complained about his sexual performance as 
well. Riley gave up butting lumber, restricting himself to human 

In 1871 Riley picked the wrong victim at that pastime as well, 
a young carriage painter named John Jordan. Twice in a saloon 
brawl he sent Jordan flying, but as Riley charged at him the third 
time, Jordan pulled out a self-cocking English revolver and shot his 
tormentor in the chest. 

Riley was rushed to a hospital, where doctors predicted he 
would die of his wound, but he was such a remarkable physical 
specimen that he recovered. However, he lost his great strength 
both for fighting and for loving. The worlds of violence and vice 
lost interest in him. Hoodlums who had previously flocked to his 
banner for criminal forays now ignored him, sometimes even beat 
ing him up for old time s sake. 

In 1876 Riley was convicted as a common housebreaker and 
sent to San Quentin for 15 years, where he was often described as 
being "stir crazy." After that, the former Frisco hardhead faded 
into obscurity. 

Oofty Goofty 175 

Oofty Goofty (?-1896) 

Of all the queer characters California s Barbary Coast melodeons 
(music halls) spewed in the late 19th century, none delighted audi 
ences more than a performer named Oofty Goofty. Known to press 
or public by no other name, he first appeared in a Market Street 
freak show in San Francisco. 

Masquerading as a wild man recently captured in the wilds of 
Borneo, he was supposedly imported to San Francisco at enormous 
expense by showmen eager to impart new scientific knowledge to 
the eagerly and easily awed. An attendant fed the wild, caged man 
huge chunks of raw meat, which he ripped into ravenously, pausing 
only long enough to growl, rattle the bars, and scream fearsomely, 
"Oofty goofty! Oofty goofty!" hence his name. 

Gawking audiences were thrilled and quite possibly sickened 
by his performances, which drew record crowds for about a week, 
until problems developed. Oofty Goofty was covered with road tar 
from head to toe and decorated with large amounts of horsehair, 
to give him his ferocious appearance. Unfortunately, he was unable 
to perspire through this costume and became deathly ill. The wild 
man was rushed to a hospital where doctors tried vainly for several 
days to remove the coating without at the same time ripping off his 
skin. Finally they simply poured tar solvent over him and laid him 
out on the hospital roof, where the sun successfully finished the 

The incident brought Oofty Goofty considerable fame, and he 
became a much sought-after performer at leading Barbary Coast 
beer halls and variety houses. His new act consisted of singing one 
song terribly. Then with great ceremony he was thrown into the 
street, to the wild applause of the audience. 

If the act was a success, it meant even more to Oofty Goofty. 
He was always kicked with considerable force, landing on the con 
crete sidewalk with a thud. He became aware of the fact that he felt 
no pain, that he was largely insensitive to pain. 

Thereafter, Oofty Goofty was done for the most part with his 
theatrical career, preferring instead to eke out a dangerous, pun 
ishing existence allowing himself to be pummeled by the denizens 
of the Barbary Coast for a fee. For the price of a thin dime a 
gentleman earned the right to kick Oofty Goofty as hard as he 

176 Curran, John 

could; for a quarter he could work him over with a walking stick. 
Oofty Goofty s piece de resistance was his 50-cent offering, which 
allowed a customer to slam him with a baseball bat. He became a 
familiar figure, not only on the coast but in other parts of San 
Francisco; he carried his bat into barber shops, saloons, or just 
up to groups of men at street corners, doing his spiel: "Hit me 
with a bat for four bits, Gents? Only four bits to hit me with 
this bat, Gents." 

Oofty Goofty was knocked flat hundreds of times but was able 
to continue his unique vocation for some 15 years. But one day in 
the 1890s, he was worked over with a billiard cue by the then heavy 
weight champion John L. Sullivan. Sullivan s punishment injured 
Oofty Goofty s back, and he afterward walked with a permanent 
limp. In addition Oofty Goofty s career was ruined; the slightest 
blow now caused him to moan in agony. 

There was not a happier man in America than Oofty Goofty 
when James J. Corbett defeated the great John L. shortly there 
after; he looked upon Corbett as his avenging angel. But Oofty 
Goofty s fall from fame was greater even than Sullivan s. Without 
his peculiar physical characteristic, Oofty Goofty sank to the level 
of a nonentity. He died a few years later. 

Curraa John "One Lung" (?-c.l90Os) 

Within the social circles of the late 19th century New York under 
world, Johnny "One Lung" Curran occupied a hallowed niche. His 
claims to fame were three: he was gallant to the ladies; he was the 
acknowledged bard of the criminals; and, above all, he bore a nearly 
pathological hatred for policemen. Many are the tales of this noto 
rious brawler beating up men in uniform for no good reason save 
that they were there. 

Despite the tubercular condition that gave him his sobriquet, 
Curran was a sub-chief of one of the great street gangs of the era, 
the wild Gophers. This gang ruled Hell s Kitchen, a tough section 

Curran, John 1 77 

ranging from Seventh to Eleventh avenues and from Fourteenth to 
Forty-second streets. Newspapers noted that the police had not the 
brute power or violence that the Gophers, One Lung Curran in 
particular, mustered. It was a polite way of saying that the police 
were afraid of them. 

Being afraid of a brute like One Lung was rather understand 
able. A celebrated case in point was the time a girl friend wailed to 
him that she was being chilled by the winds blowing off the Hudson 
River. Ever the gallant, One Lung walked over to a policeman and 
blackjacked him to the ground. He stripped off the officer s coat 
and presented it to his lady fair, who took it home and, being an 
accomplished seamstress, turned it into a military-style lady s jacket. 
It was such a fashion hit in Gopher society that other gang members 
went out to club down and denude policemen by the dozen. 

When One Lung was not holding his fellow thugs enthralled 
by his flaky acts, he entertained them with verses of his own com 
position. Once, for example, when One Lung was in the tuberculo 
sis ward of Bellevue Hospital, a rival gang in Greenwich Village, the 
Hudson Dusters, laid low a policeman, Dennis Sullivan, who had 
made quite a name for himself harassing thugs. Sullivan was fallen 
on by a score of hoodlums who beat him with blackjacks and 
stomped on his face, inflicting terrible wounds. He was hospitalized 
for several weeks and was close to death. When news of the assault 
reached One Lung, he sat up in his bed and penned a poem, even 
though it meant bestowing honor on another gang. It started: 

Says Dinny, "Here s me only chance 

To gain meself a name; 
I ll clean up the Hudson Dusters, 

And reach the hall of fame." 
He lost his stick and cannon, 

And his shield they took away, 
It was then that he remembered 

Every dog has got his day. 

One Lung s masterpiece went on for a half dozen more verses 
describing the assault in loving detail. It led to an era of good 
feeling between the Gophers and the Dusters. The latter had One 
Lung s poem printed up on parchment-like paper, distributing cop 
ies to every saloon and barber shop in their bailiwick. The Dusters 
also saw to it that a good supply reached the police at Officer Sulli 
van s home precinct on Charles Street as well as the victim himself 
in the hospital. 

178 Alee, Johnny 

One Lung remained a terror to the police, with his fists and 
pen, until he died of tuberculosis at the beginning of this century. 
Indeed, his verse outlived him. For years the aforementioned ditty 
was sung in the streets by the juvenile toughs of New York s West 

Alee, Johnny (1853-1887) 


It is impossible to come up with the fattest man of all time, the 
problem being complicated by the circus fat people, for whom pre 
posterous claims are made. Few such fat persons truly weigh more 
than 500 pounds, although promoters often claim double that, then 
clad them in loose-fitting garments for the added billowy effect. 
Thus it may well be that Johnny Alee of mid- 19th-century North 
Carolina was the fattest American. Among his neighbors in the tiny 
crossroads community of Carbon, North Carolina, he was held to 
be 1,132 pounds, but that was not a figure medically attested to; 
therefore Robert Earl Hughes (1926-1958), at 1,069 pounds, is 
popularly called the fattest American. 

However, if Johnny Alee was not the fattest, he was, as folks 
around Carbon, North Carolina, put it, "the eatiest fool." No psy 
chological quirks nor glandular disorders held sway in the public 
perception. Alee was just a man who took a powerful interest 
in gorging. 

Born in 1853, Johnny was always on the tubby side but hardly 
exceptionally so until he was 10. Then he developed his great ap 
petite. He ate ravenously, and by the time he was 15 he could barely 
support his own weight, and he could no longer leave by the front 
door of his house. Grown men could barely wrap their arms around 
his thighs. 

Johnny seems to have enjoyed his celebrity although apparently 
not nearly as much as eating. Friends, neighbors, and the curious 
were always welcome at the Alee homestead, as long as they brought 
along a picnic basket or two for Johnny to feast on. Even children 

Harden-Hickey, James A. 1 79 

gave up their chocolate cakes to watch big Little Johnny devour 
them in a few quick bites. 

In time Johnny could only walk with great difficulty, and the 
15-foot trek between his huge chair and the table where he gorged 
was a major moving project. It became part of the area s folklore 
that getting from the table to the chair made Johnny expend so 
much energy that he worked up his appetite all over again. 

Quite naturally, Johnny s overweight problem proved the death 
of him, if not for the traditional reasons advanced by doctors. Alee 
was 33 years old at the time. He hauled his weight along to a spot 
in the parlor where he could peek out the door. Suddenly the 
flooring splintered, and Johnny plunged through to his armpits. 
He dangled there helplessly, six feet off the ground, since the parlor 
section was suspended some 10 feet above the ground on log stilts. 
His neighbors tried to rescue him by rigging up a block and tackle 
to lift him back to safety. 

But before they were ready they noticed that Johnny s heavy 
breathing had stopped. Doctors later decided the eatiest fool had 
died of heart failure, from fear of tumbling to the earth, which he 
had not touched for almost 20 years. 

Harden-Hickey, James A. (1854-1898) 

James A. Harden-Hickey can be said to have crowded an incredible 
number of peccadillos into a relatively short life. Not many men 
managed to crown themselves king, author a tome dedicated to the 
joys of suicide, and be so conversant with the thoughts of the greats 
in the arts and sciences that they suffered no compunctions about 
putting their own grand ideas in their words. 

Born into wealth, New Yorker Harden-Hickey was educated in 
France, where he was much taken with the court of Napoleon III. 
He always considered himself cut from the cloth of royalty, and he 
spent his life proving that exotic idea to his fellow man. He was 
aided in this by marriage to a bride even richer than himself, Anna 

1 80 Harden-Hickey, James A. 

Flagler, heiress to a steel and oil fortune. Her father, tycoon John 
Flagler, thought his son-in-law to be rather a fop, given as he was 
to courtly dress; but the older man didn t know the half of it. 
Harden-Hickey was not one to waste time dreaming about what he 
would do if he were king; he determined to become one. 

This man in search of a kingdom found his lush domain in 
1893, on the uninhabited island of Trinidad, some 700 miles off 
the coast of Brazil. It was not of course the larger British West 
Indian island of Trinidad off the coast of Venezuela; but at 60 
square miles it was enough to be a modest man s empire. 

King James I, aboard a full-rigged schooner, claimed Trinidad 
and established a colony of 40 Americans there. He saw grand 
opportunities for exploiting the island s natural resources, espe 
cially by mining the plentiful stores of bat guano. 

King James I did not relish living in his kingly climes all year 
around, preferring the American scene much of the time. So he 
opened his country s chancellery on Thirty-second Street where, 
although the U.S. State Department paid him no mind, he could 
still receive visitors and those interested in purchasing stamps (with 
his likeness). If they were lucky, the visitors might also see James I 
sporting his handmade crown. 

Because James I felt it might be a bit pretentious parading 
around the United States with his kingly title, he also more conser 
vatively dubbed himself Baron James A. Harden-Hickey, certainly 
more the right thing when one mixes with the masses. 

Besides his royal duties, Harden-Hickey turned to the pen, 
churning out several works presenting his personal philosophy. 
His most noted work, rather more infamous than famous, was 
Euthanasia: The Aesthetics of Suicide. He stated in the preface: "We 
must shake off this fond desire of life and learn that it is of little 
consequence when we suffer; that it is of greater moment to live 
well than to live long, and that oftentimes it is living well not to live 

The tome, which can only be described as the ultimate how-to 
book, offered some 88 poisons and 5 1 instruments for doing one 
self in. Harden-Hickey most preferred "wolfs-bane," but if one did 
not have access to such a poisonous plant, which grew most preva 
lently in the Alps, he heartily recommended a trusty pair of scissors. 
"May this little work contribute to the overthrow of fear," the author 
rhapsodized. "May it nerve the faltering arm of the poor wretch to 
whom life is loathsome. . . . The only remedy for a life of misery is 
death; if you are tired and weary, if you are the victim of disease or 
misfortune, drop the burden of life, fly away!" 

Harden-Hickey, James A. 181 

Of course, the reader did not have to take Harden-Hickey s 
word. His book offered 400 quotations "by the greatest thinkers 
the world has ever produced." Among them were: "Nature is kind 
and considerate in giving us the power of dying; there are a thou 
sand ways out of life, though but one way into it"; "The best way 
never to fear death is always to be thinking about it"; "The wise 
man lives as long as he ought, not as long as he can." 

These quotations are given here without attribution since 
Harden-Hickey was much too modest in ascribing them to others. 
He made virtually all of them up himself. 

If he was taken to task for his literary forgeries, Harden- 
Hickey had little time to worry about it. More serious crises faced 
James I. In 1895 Great Britain, that imperial power, simply seized 
his island of Trinidad as a coaling station. Suddenly James I found 
himself a king without a country. He fumed and raged, petitioning 
the United States to come to his aid, a position the American gov 
ernment found less than compelling. 

The following year Britain turned the island over to Brazil, 
which upset James I all the more. He declared he would launch a 
war against England for her treachery and, after conclusion of that 
conflict, he would deal with Brazil s effrontery as well. He recruited 
a number of mercenaries for his planned attack on England, but it 
may well have been that these individuals were more impressed 
with their advance pay than their combat potential against a great 
power. In any event Harden-Hickey s armed forces started melting 
away when the pay dried up. Harden-Hickey s wife and father-in- 
law refused to fund his wild campaign, and he was left alone, wal 
lowing in self-pity and experiencing loss of the desire for life. 

In February 1898, Harden-Hickey harkened back to his own 
book and, in a modest hotel room in El Paso, Texas, he ended 
his life. He rather mundanely used morphine not wolfs-bane or 

1 82 Gardner, Marshall B. 

Gardner. 5. (1834-1937) 


The Idea of a hollow earth is not a new one. Although it was first 
popularized in America by Captain John Cleves Symmes (q.v.) in 
1818, Cotton Mather speculated along similar lines a century ear 
lier and, in doing so, drew heavily from one of the more eccentric 
theories put forward by the great English astronomer Edmund Hal- 
ley, of comet fame. 

In 1913, the mantle was picked up by a man from Aurora, 
Illinois, Marshall B. Gardner, who was in charge of maintenance of 
machinery for a corset firm. Nothing enraged him more than the 
suggestion that his theory was based on doctrines advanced by ear 
lier hollow-earth advocates. In a brilliant example of the old adage 
about the pot calling the kettle black, Gardner poked fun at 
Symmes, rejecting his "fantastic notion" that the earth consisted of 
numerous concentric spheres. 

Gardner expounded his theory in a book, Journey to the Earth s 
iMm&r, which he was forced to print privately. Because he picked 
up a cult of followers, he was able to expand the book in 1920 to 
456 pages. He saw all the earlier hollow earthers as "cranks" who 
"deny all the facts of science and get up some purely private expla 
nation of the formation of the earth." 

Having expressed that thought, Gardner proceeded to boggle 
the minds of scientists with his own notions, which were likewise 
based on few established facts and many private fantasies. Ridicul 
ing Symmes thesis, he insisted that only the outer shell of the earth 
was definitely known to exist. Inside the hollow earth, he an 
nounced, was a sun 600 miles in diameter, which offered perpetual 
daylight to the interior. There were openings at both the North and 
South Poles, each 1,400 miles wide, through which outer-shell 
beings could enter and interior residents could leave. This was 
where Eskimos came from, he said; furthermore, it explained their 
legends of a world of never-ending summer. Why had the Eskimos 
left this paradise? Perhaps they were driven out by great mam 
moths like the frozen mammoths found in Siberia. 

Gardner then debunked the various expeditions to the North 
Pole, simply explaining that none of the explorers ever reached it. 
He attacked the "professional freemasonry" of scientists for the fact 
that his theories did not get a fair hearing. After all, he pointed 

Tattenbaum, William 1 83 

out, he was shattering all their neat little explanations of the world. 
Indeed, Gardner offered his own simple explanation of the aurora 
borealis. It was produced by interior sunlight streaming out of the 
northern opening of the earth. 

When Gardner published his expanded work in 1920, he pre 
dicted the public would soon embrace his views and discard those 
of establishment scientists. The only reason the public had not gone 
wild over his 1913 edition, he claimed, was the distraction of the 
Great War. Gardner was not completely deluded in this. Thousands 
came to his lectures and listened to his paranoid claims of being 
"the genius unappreciated." He was philosophical about it; Galileo 
had also had the same woes, receiving honors only much later. 

In 1926 Admiral Richard Byrd made his epic airplane flight 
over the North Pole. There was no Symmes hole, and no Gardner 
hole. The corset factory man was shattered. He ceased all his writ 
ings and public speaking. But before he died in 1937, he insisted 
his idea still had some merit. 

It must be noted that some followers of Gardner still carry the 
banner; they hold to his idea of large openings at the poles. They 
insist the openings simply have not been found. They ask about 
that warm- weather little pest, the mosquito, that some polar explor 
ers have described. Where else could the little beast have come 
from, if not Gardner s world? 

Mtenbaum, William (1855-1881) 


A long-haired Russian named WilliamTattenbaum was one of the 
most colorful figures to hit Tombstone, Arizona, which he did in 
1880. He was a flamboyant contrast to the grimy desert rats and 
saddlebums attracted to that glittering silver mecca amid the sage 

A saddle-sore cowboy coming to Tombstone was always warned 
by his comrades to be ready for anything and that was good ad 
vice. There wasn t anything like Tombstone for miles around. A 

184 Tatierabaum, William 

town of some 500 buildings in 1880, no less than 100 of them were 
licensed to dispense alcoholic beverages; 50 more could be called 
businesses of ill fame. But there was much more, including such 
magnificent sights as the Bird Cage Theater, Crystal Palace Concert 
Hall, Schieffelin Concert Hall, and the Elite Theater. Their patrons 
included the odd, the painted, the dandyish, and the foppish, 
among others, but few matched Tattenbaum, who quickly 
achieved a measure of notoriety as the town fool. He was to 
the awed westerner quite a sight, described by many as "a white 
Chinaman." He had long hair and would spend hours grooming 
it, to the delight of old and young alike. 

And Russian Bill, as he was called, sure could tell tall ones. 
Among his crazy chatterings was a claim that he was late of the 
Czar s Imperial White Hussars, the son of the Countess Telfrin, a 
wealthy Russian noblewoman. Why had he left? He had faced a 
court-martial for striking a superior officer. He also told of his 
many feats of daring, which Tombstonians considered to be down 
right lies. They were unimpressed when Russian Bill decked him 
self out in the finest cowboy raiment and armed himself with the 
best in shiny six-guns. 

Townsfolk much preferred to regard him as an eccentric and 
the butt of humor. As a character, he was later perpetuated by 
Hollywood; the likes of comedian Mischa Auer played the Russian- 
Bill type in movie westerns. 

Russian Bill strived for better. He ingratiated himself with 
Curly Bill Brocius and the rest of the outlaw Clanton Gang, espe 
cially the mysterious Johnny Ringo, a strange cowboy who mingled 
culture with meanness. Ringo was fond of quoting Shakespeare, 
and one can imagine the face-downs between Ringo quoting the 
Bard and Russian Bill countering with everything from Plato to 
Tolstoy. Alas, there was no one else at the outlaw camp at Galeyville 
to record or probably even comprehend the verbal jousts. Ringo 
had a killer reputation, which held the other gunmen in line, but 
Russian Bill enjoyed no such immunity from ridicule. If the outlaws 
were awed or baffled by his recitations, they were thoroughly 
amused by his hair grooming. Besides, he was to be tolerated be 
cause he could run errands for the gang. 

There is little doubt Russian Bill wanted to be taken for a great 
bandit, but there is no evidence that he was. If anything, the most 
he ever became was a "horse-holder" during the gang s forays. His 
pleas for an active role were met by raucous laughter. 

To escape such derision Russian Bill struck out in 1881 for 
New Mexico Territory in an ill-fated horse-stealing enterprise of 

Gates, John W 185 

his own. He quickly fell into the hands of the Law and Order Com 
mittee of Shakespeare, New Mexico Territory, where unfortunately 
his reputation as a softhead was not known. Had they been aware 
of Russian Bill s eccentricities, he might well have gotten off with 
just being run out of town. Instead, he and another malefactor 
named Sandy King were given a speedy trial in the banquet room 
of the* Grant House hostelry. Shakespeare s vigilantes were noted 
for the swiftness of their justice, and Russian Bill and King were 
strung up without further ado from a ceiling beam in the very room 
where the verdict was rendered. 

When news of the hanging drifted back to Tombstone, many 
folks were upset, feeling it was an unkind act toward a feeble 
minded character, but what was done was done, most decided. The 
final word to the Russian Bill saga was not written until 1883, when 
the Countess Telfrin with the aid of agents traced her erratic son as 
far as Tombstone, and finally to somewhere in New Mexico. 

Tombstonians were rather chagrined to learn that all of Rus 
sian Bill s r amblings were true. He had been a lieutenant in the 
service of the czar. The embarrassment in Shakespeare, needless to 
say, was even more acute when the townsfolk learned they had 
hanged "an honest-to-God son of a countess." To save the countess 
needless grief and protect the town from a troublesome investiga 
tion by Washington, it was decided that the wisest course was to 
report that Tattenbaum had met with an accidental death. 

Not long afterwards Shakespeare turned into a ghost town, but 
as late as the 1950s a small marker indicated Russian Bill s grave. 

Gatea, 5et-A~Million (John W.) (18^-4911) 


Waiting for a business meeting to start, two men in a New York 
office watched raindrops slithering down a windowpane, as if their 
lives depended on it. Then one raindrop plunged downward sud 
denly, and one of the men roared: "My win! That makes $50,000 
you owe me. Let s go again, double or nothing." 

186 Gates, John W. 

A compulsive gambler, Bet-A-Million 
Gates made a lucrative science of 
besting the Robber Barons at 
extravagant bets. 

However, the other man had had enough. He was not the 
compulsive gambler that the winner, Bet-A-Million Gates, was. In 
fact, he didn t know how he d been talked into playing in the first 
place. His opponent, barrel-chested, heavy-jowled John Warne 
Gates was the King of the Plungers. He got his nickname of Bet-A- 
Million when, one day at Saratoga Race Track, he tried to place a 
million dollars on a horse, causing the bookmakers to run for cover. 

Gates would bet on anything cards, dice, roulette, or he d 
make up games like betting on raindrops if nothing else was avail 
able. He had used the same tactic in business, speculating, trying to 
anticipate what the other great movers of the day financiers like 
the Morgans and the Carnegies wanted. Then he d head them off 
and force them to pay till it hurt to get it. 

Almost anyone with money hated Gates. "The man cannot be 
entrusted with property, 1 J. R Morgan railed about the Illinois 
barbed-wire salesman who had pyramided a $30-a-month salary 
seEing wire to Texas cattlemen into a ISO-million fortune. "He s a 
broken-down gambler," Andrew Carnegie raged. Once, after Gates 
took Morgan in a $15 million deal, the latter in vengeance retaliated 

Gates, John W. 187 

by seeing to it that Gates was barred from admission to the Union 
League and the New York Yacht Club. 

Always crude and boisterous, Gates was only tolerated at the 
Waldorf Hotel because he was its highest-paying guest, keeping a 
$20,000-a-year suite there for use as a clubhouse. Because he was 
such a liberal tipper, management discovered they could pay lower 
salaries to staffers who were eager for a chance to hit it big with 

Gates had started gambling while still a schoolboy, playing 
poker with railroad hands in idle train cars in his native Turner s 
Junction, some 30 miles from Chicago. Gates knew how to stack the 
odds in his favor and, although in later years he might drop as 
much as a million dollars in a poker session that lasted several days 
and nights, he always won far more than he lost. Generally that was 
because he could always afford to come back, having enough money 
to double his bet after a loss. 

Once, in Kansas City, a local sport begged an audience, saying 
he represented a local syndicate that wanted to gamble with him on 
any sort of game. 

"You know I don t play for small sums," Gates said. "How much 
have you got to spend?" 

The sport produced a roll of $40,000. 

Gates flipped a gold piece in the air. "Heads or tails," he said. 
"You call it." 

The local gambler lost, and Gates pocketed his winnings. The 
loser became a sort of local celebrity who was pointed out as the 
man who had lost $40,000 to Bet-A-Million Gates in less than 10 

Once Gates was dining with wealthy playboy John Drake, 
whose father had founded Drake University and was a governor of 
Iowa. With their coffee, Gates suggested they each dunk a piece of 
bread and bet $1,000 a fly on whose bread attracted the most flies. 
Gates collected a small fortune. Slyly, he had turned the odds in his 
favor by first slipping six lumps of sugar into his coffee cup. 

From the moment Gates awoke in the morning, he was looking 
for action. On a train en route to the races at Saratoga once, Gates 
needed a fourth for bridge and told a newspaperman he knew 
casually: "We play for five a point, but I ll guarantee your losses and 
you can keep what you win." 

When the game ended, the reporter tallied up his points and 
gleefully told Gates he was due $500 at five cents a point. Gates 
leaned back and howled ;; ; *h laughter until tears came. He wrote 
out a check for $50,0v>~. * hey had been playing for $5 a point. 

188 Gates, John W. 

These and many other bizarre incidents made Bet-A-Million 
Gates a popular hero. That as much as anything got to Morgan, 
who was himself labeled a "robber baron." He regarded himself far 
less an unprincipled speculator than Bet-A-Million. 

Finally though, Gates had his run of bad luck. He found him 
self without cash and down to his business investments, and they 
were held as collateral, payable on demand to his nemesis Morgan, 
It is said that Gates literally dropped to his knees, begging Morgan 
not to destroy him completely. Morgan relented to the extent 
of letting Gates keep a portion of his former holdings, provided 
that he got out of Wall Street and out of New York and stay 
out forever. 

Gates moved to Port Arthur, Texas, where he was only a 
shadow of his former affluence and influence. He searched around 
for a new gamble. In 1901 Spindletop, the greatest gusher in petro 
leum history, had been brought in. Gates formed his own oil com 
pany with several backers and hired an army of geologists and 
drillers. They brought in a long string of dry holes, but then they 
started to hit winners. In 1902, Standard Oil offered to buy Gates 
company, called The Texas Company, for $25 million. Gates just 

By 1911 Gates was personally worth somewhere between $50 
million and $100 million. He sent his firm s latest financial state 
ment to Morgan. Later that year Gates died in a Paris hospital while 
on vacation with his wife. He had already broken his promise to 
Morgan, having been living in New York in the new and sumptuous 
Plaza Hotel since it opened in 1908. On his instructions, Gates 
was buried in a kingly mausoleum not far from Wall Street. Prob 
ably to his way of thinking, Bet-A-Million had taken another pot 
from old J.R 

Brady, James Buchanan 189 

Brady, James Buchanan Diamond Jim" 


One of the great fashion plates and most valiant, voracious eaters 
the world has ever seen, Diamond Jim Brady could be said to have 
eaten his way to success. Born to poor, working-class Irish parents 
in New York, Brady started out as a baggage handler at a railroad 
station. He rose to be a champion railroad-equipment salesman 
when the railroad was king. He did it by holding clients, such as 
visiting Midwest railroad nabobs, in awe of his diamond-encrusted 
appearance and compulsive gluttony. A railroad man might head 
back to Kansas City and, instead of bragging that he had closed a 
million-dollar deal, he would recall his experience of a lifetime 
breaking bread with the famed Diamond Jim. 

Making money was not an end in itself for Diamond Jim; it 
merely allowed him to follow his coarse and flamboyant epicurean 
ways. Or, as he put it with delightfully insurmountable vulgarity: 
"Them as has em wears em." Brady was at the moment discussing 
the Christmas-treelike glitter that had earned him his nickname of 
"Diamond Jim." When Brady went to his dresser drawer, he could 
choose from 30-odd timepieces, many worthy of being museum 
pieces and ranging up in appraised cost to $17,500 apiece. The 
combined weight of one of his diamond rings and his number-one 
scarfpin, each adorned by a single stone, was 58 karats. One of his 
many watch chains scaled in at 83 emerald karats. A single set of 
shirt studs, vest studs, and cufflinks cost him a piddling $87,315. 

He also maintained a wardrobe of 200 custom-made suits and 
at least 50 glossy hats. All this was part of Brady s selling technique, 
and as an entertainer of clients he has been labeled the father of 
the lavish expense account. But of course Brady really displayed his 
glitter and gilt for the glory of it, and he dined for the sheer joy of 
ravenous feeding. 

He once thus explained his eating style: "Whenever I sit down 
to a meal, I always make a point to leave just four inches between 
my stummick [sic] and the edge of the table. And then, when I can 
feel em rubbin together pretty hard, I know I ve had enough." 
The celebrated New York restauranteur Charles Rector described 
Diamond Jim as "the best twenty-five customers we had." 

1 90 Brady, James Buchanan 

Rector s mathematics could not be faulted. Brady s checks for 
typical feedings would come to monumental numbers. An average 
day of Brady s gluttony started off with a breakfast of hominy, eggs, 
muffins, corn bread, flapjacks, chops, fried potatoes, a beefsteak or 
two a n washed down with a gallon of orange juice, his favorite 
drink, since he never touched wine or liquor. 

By 1 1 :30 A.M. pangs of hunger hit Brady, and there was no way 
he could survive until lunch an hour later. A pre-lunch snack of two 
or three dozen clams and oysters kept him going. Then at lunch 
Brady wolfed down more clams and oysters, a brace of boiled lob 
sters, some deviled crabs, a joint of beef, and several pieces of pie. 
Of course this took another gallon of orange juice as a chaser. 
Teatime meant a platter of seafood washed down with a stream of 
Brady s second favorite liquid, lemon soda. 

Then, happily, came dinner, when Brady could get down to 
some serious eating. It would start with two or three dozen Lynn- 
haven oysters, especially selected for Diamond Jim. This was fol 
lowed by a half dozen crabs and at least two bowls of green turtle 
soup. Then followed a number of main courses, say six or seven 
lobsters, two canvasback ducks, two huge portions of terrapin (tur 
tle meat), a large sirloin steak, with assorted vegetables. Jim would 
then be offered a pastry platter; invariably he simply emptied it. 
All this would be washed down with another gallon or two of or 
ange juice. Then Brady would cap the meal by nibbling down a two- 
pound box of chocolates. 

Brady always had a bit of a sweet tooth; once in Boston he 
sampled the wares of a local candy maker and was so impressed 
that he wolfed down a five-pound box of the stuff, announcing, 
"Best goddamned candy I ever ate." He wrote out a check for 
$150,000 so that the little company could expand its facilities and 
keep him in supply; the money was to be refunded in trade. 

There are those who considered Brady to be basically an un 
happy fat man who drowned himself in food. He proposed mar 
riage to famed singer-actress Lillian Russell. She spurned him, 
although she remained his constant dinner companion. But the 
truth was that Diamond Jim loved his way of life too well to ever 

He once staged a dinner in honor of one of his racehorses, 
Gold Heels. The grand feeding of 50 guests ran from 4:00 P.M. 
until 9:00 A.M. the following morning. The tab for the food and 
champagne (and a gusher of orange juice for the host) topped 
$45,000. Brady also presented "party favors" for his guests which, 
brought in on velvet cushions at midnight, consisted of a diamond- 

Wittrock, Frederick 191 

studded stopwatch for each gentleman and an elegant diamond- 
studded brooch for each lady. The gifts cost about $1,200 each. 

Naturally, medical experts kept warning Brady he was killing 
himself with his enormous meals; indeed many doctors were par 
ticularly alarmed by his voluminous intake of citrus juice. Still, it 
was no small accomplishment that Diamond Jim lasted until 56 
before he developed serious stomach trouble. He lived another five 
years after that. A postmortem on his body revealed that his stom 
ach was six times the normal size. Much of Brady s fortune, includ 
ing the revenues from the sale of his jewelry, went to the James 
t Brady Urological Clinic, which he had established at Johns Hopkins 
in Baltimore. 

Wittrock Frederick (1858-1921) 

"Terrible" Fred Wittrock was a man born too late for his calling. 
Such publications as the Police Gazette led Wittrock, the owner of a 
small St. Louis store, astray. He read ravenously about the doings 
of Billy the Kid and Jesse James, and then he brooded on his own 
dull existence. 

Finally in 1886 Wittrock sold his store, bought himself a six- 
shooter, and purchased several black outfits, trying to decide which 
would look best, and most threatening, on him. Then he launched 
the outlaw career of Terrible Fred Wittrock. 

Amazingly, he actually went out and pulled a rather impressive 
robbery, holding up the St. Louis and San Francisco Express just 
outside St. Louis, netting $10,000 from the Adams Express Com 
pany safe. He gained entrance to the express car by using forged 
credentials that indicated he was the railroad s new night superin 

Wittrock was not however sublimely happy at the outcome. He 
had nice booty but not the satisfaction of achieving fame. After a 
time the story of the cunning robbery faded from print, and Witt- 
rock was stuck with loot but no headlines. In an effort to rekindle 

192 Senior, Stephen 

the investigation, Terrible Fred wrote a letter to the St. Louis Globe 
Democrat revealing "the inside story" of the robbery and informing 
the newspaper that the bandit s tools could be found in a St. Louis 
baggage room. 

Law officers and a reporter went to the baggage room and 
discovered a six-shooter, mask, blackjack, express company money 
envelopes, and an old song sheet. Written on the song sheet was 
Wittrock s address at a local boardinghouse. Wittrock was tracked 
down within 24 hours. Taken into custody, he begged deputies and 
the press to refer to him as "Terrible Fred," which he said was what 
all his outlaw confederates called him. 

Wittrock got a long prison term and at least a slight reputation 
as a criminal. However, Wittrock was not satisfied, and so from 
behind bars he confessed to a number of other robberies. Some 
were real and others imaginary capers, and eventually law officials 
stopped paying attention to his confessions. 

When Terrible Fred was released, he tried without success to 
interest publishers in his "memoirs." Alas, not even the Police Gazette 
took him seriously. Poor Fred lived out his years spinning tales that 
nobody listened to save for some goggle-eyed school kids. It wasn t 
much but to Wittrock it was at least a measure of fame. 

Senior, Stephen (1859-1924) 


Stephen Senior was a well-known character in Perth Amboy, New 
Jersey. It is not a large town now, and in the early part of the 
century it was even smaller. People had a way of knowing each 
other s business. Everyone knew Old Man Senior. He was a poor 
man who relied on the kindness of others to eke out a precarious 
existence. He lived in a hovel that he had more or less built himself. 
He bought his bread at a bakery just at closing time for half price, 
sometimes even less, and he made the same arrangements at deli 
catessens, cheaply buying prepared foods and salads that would 
otherwise spoil over the weekend. 

Senior, Stephen 193 

Through the cold Perth Amboy winters, Senior never spent a 
penny for fuel. He gathered up coal along the railroad tracks and 
around factories. He obtained wood from boxes discarded behind 
food and retail stores. The winter of 1924 was a particularly bitter 
one, and Senior, then 65 years old, was ailing, for many weeks 
hardly leaving his bed. The porous walls of his crude shack could 
not prevent the subzero blasts of wind from chilling his abode. 
Finally faced with a shortage of coal, he summoned a coal dealer, 
inquiring about his prices. Senior was outraged at the thought of 
spending the better part of a dollar for a few bushels of fuel, and 
he drove the dealer from his hovel door with threats and a shower 
of wooden blocks. He then ventured forth into the snow to retrieve 
his precious wood with more imprecations and threats at the coal 
man. Did he think a poor man could afford to spend such a mon 
strous sum for warmth? 

Three days later Old Man Senior was found frozen to death in 
his bed. His desperate fight to stay alive was evident: he had stuffed 
the cracks in his walls with rags and newspapers, and when he ran 
out of his supply of them, he had used other insulation paper 
money. Not a few dollars but thousands and thousands. When 
searchers lifted up the linoleum they found a padding of money to 
reduce wear and tear on the linoleum. 

By the time authorities had concluded their search of the dead 
man s property, they turned up a fortune of well over a half million 
dollars in investments and cash. It turned out that Senior owned a 
considerable amount of real estate and received a large rental in 
come through an agency, used so that the residents of Perth Amboy 
would know nothing of his wealth. 

He had not deigned even to live on his own property, having 
built his shack on unclaimed real estate. Senior obviously had seen 
no reason to deprive himself of rental income on his own property 
or, worse yet, to enrich another landlord for providing him with 
living space. 

What joy Senior must have had contemplating his wealth, and 
how much greater was that joy because his was a secret kept from 
mortal man. Was it joy, or what Robert Burton called, "A mere 
madness, to live like a wretch, and die rich"? 

194 Prince, Frederick Henry 

Prince, Frederick Henry (18591953) 

If one were to have named the most eccentric couple of Boston 
North Shore society during the first half of the 20th century, it 
would have had to have been Frederick Henry and Abigail Norman 
Prince. Prince was often described as the wealthiest man in New 
England, with a fortune estimated at $250 million garnered in rail 
roading and in outright ownership of the Chicago stockyards. He 
had a reputation as an outstanding horseman and one of the most 
outspoken American capitalists in that order. The ranking of 
these attributes was based on the observation that while he might 
on occasion be sans checkbook, he was almost never without his 
riding crop, even at formal or social affairs. His interest in matters 
equine was further held up to public view in 1929 when, in a mo 
ment of pique, he bashed a groom, a polo professional, over the 
head with a polo mallet all for the inexcusable offense of riding 
him off the field in the heat of a practice match. The groom s 
offense was almost the equivalent of the unwashed storming the 

The ensuing trial for $50,000 damages was covered by the 
Boston newspapers with almost the zeal shown in another Massa 
chusetts court case, the trial of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. In 
deed, besides drawing the standard newsmen contingent, the 
Prince affair also attracted the society department reporters. It was 
perhaps in keeping with Prince s behavior that a jury award of 
$20,000 to the groom was appealed by the defense for four years, 
finally being settled out of court for, it was reputed, the original 
sum of $50,000. 

During his tribulations, Prince could count on unlimited sup 
port of his doting wife, Abigail. She shared all of Prince s interests 
and biases, including of course an interest in horsemanship, polo, 
foxhounding, and the like activities in which the couple indulged 
at various homes in Boston, Newport, Aiken, (S.C.), and Europe. 
From the time he married Abigail in 1884, Frederick doted on her, 
determined to protect her from the germ-ridden outside world. 

Early on, he forebade his wife to handle money, paper or coin, 
lest through the filthy lucre Black Death, chronic septicemia, or 
even more dreaded diseases like V.D. be conveyed upon her. Of 
course, since they lived in a world where money was a necessity, 

Billings, Cornelius K. G. 195 

Prince supplied his wife with a personal bursar, an Irishman named 
Thomas, who handled all financial transactions. Thomas seemed 
much like a member of the horse-loving family, never being seen in 
any other dress than riding breeches, canvas leggings, and hard 
Derby hat. There were those journalists who advised their readers 
that he slept in his gear, to be ready at a moment s notice to fulfill 
his mistress slightest whim. 

However, the Princes understood full well that germs did not 
restrict themselves to the currency of the realm, and that other risks 
of infection abounded. Mrs. Prince was not permitted to sleep in 
the same bedroom on successive nights lest germ intelligence learn 
of her whereabouts. She slept in a specially built large cradle which 
was wheeled to a different room each day, thus outwitting the 
germs. The cradle was disinfected each day, and the new room s 
walls were draped with sheets which were also scrupulously sprayed 
with antiseptics. 

Indeed, it must be noted that Abigail lived well into her 
eighties under the regimen, dying in 1949. Prince lived to the ripe 
old age of 93, a testimonial indeed to the virtues of disinfectants 
and large sums of money especially if such filthy lucre could be 
kept at arm s length, at least. 

Billing^ Cornelius K. G. (1861-1931) 

As with Charlie Gates (q.v.), speed was C. K. G. Billings grand 
obsession, especially fast horses and fast boats. Fortunately Billings 
had the wherewithal to cater to his whims, having been born into 
millions. He was also a leading capitalist, real-eastate investor, and 
chairman of the board of Union Carbide. However, such activities 
hardly held his interest or his time. He was obsessed with fine 
horses and, above all, fast living. He sought to gain access to high 
society with fast and free spending. 

He owned a sleek 240-foot yacht, the Venadis, the operating 
cost of which ran to a quarter of a million dollars a year. It was a 

196 Billings, Cornelius K. G, 

fast, sleek craft that, by night, could be taken for a Cimarder. It 
was credited with having one of the fastest times between New York 
and Palm Beach, where it was a standout during the society season, 
even if Billings himself was not; the owner was considered too 
grotesque and ostentatious in his tastes. 

It could not be said that Billings did not try hard. The Venadis 
had to anchor three miles out at sea in Florida, and Billings ar 
ranged for its houseguests to be hauled back and forth between 
ship and shore in a fleet of brass-bound, mahogany-finished small 
boats shuttling off every half hour. Spankingly dressed stewards 
served drinks aboard all the ferries; Billings own dinghy, a shallop 
close to the size of the average small yacht, carried a Hawaiian steel- 
guitar quartet who performed while the master sipped rum served 
in hollowed coconut shells. 

Undoubtedly Billings was at times frustrated by his lack of 
acceptance by high society certainly he spent money freely 
enough to merit some consideration and one may assume that his 
order for the Venadis to speed back north was born of such rejec 
tion. On one of the yacht s speed forays, it rammed with the 
steamer Bunker Hill; there was a resultant loss of two lives. Un 
daunted but presumably a bit contrite, Billings swapped the Venadis 
for Morton Plant s somewhat smaller but still speedy Kanawha. 

If Billings loved speed on water, he was most ecstatic about it 

"Gaudy" and "grotesque" were two of the more restrained adjectives used by society 
writers to describe C.K.G. Billings s wacky horseback dinner indoors at Louis Sherry s 
famous restaurant. 

Ketchum, Tom 197 

on the turf. A dedicated sportsman, he bred many top horses, 
trotters, saddle horses, and racers, even buying into some race 
tracks. Raised in Chicago, where his father became president of the 
Peoples Gas Light and Coke Company, Billings entered the com 
pany in 1879. He succeeded to his father s post in 1887, moving on 
to other business posts later, devoting however only that time to 
business that did not interfere with his true love: horses. 

Early in the 1900s, he moved to New York and purchased Fort 
Tryon as a site for his stable. Upon opening his stable, he catered 
an outdoor dinner at which all the guests rode horseback in evening 
clothes. Billings considered the event such a success that he decided 
to repeat it in a more gaudy and grotesque manner in 1903. He 
staged a zany horseback dinner indoors, at Louis Sherry s famous 
restaurant. The guests, all men, sat in the saddle astride horses that 
had been conveyed up to the ballroom by elevator. They dined, at 
an estimated $250 a plate, on pheasant from feed bags, guzzling 
champagne from large rubber casks. 

The overall cost of the feast was placed at $50,000, which in 
cluded the planting of sod on the ballroom floor. Society writers 
were unimpressed by the bizarre affair, noting it was uncomfortable 
for all and that the steed s soiling of the banquet room floor dimin 
ished the elegance of the event. 

Billings was only bewildered by such carping, wondering once 
again what he could do to impress certain people. 

Ketchum, "black Jack" Tom (18629-1901) 

It has somehow become a Hollywood legend that the Old West was 
peopled by outlaws who were intelligent or even brilliant charac 
ters. In actuality, that sterling breed could probably be counted on 
the fingers of one hand. Billy the Kid, for instance, could more 
rightly be classified as a murderous juvenile psychopath. 

However, when one is searching for the flakiest in the West, it 
is hard to go beyond "Black Jack" Tom Ketchum. It would be kind 

193 Ketchum, Tom 

Hanged In 1901, outlaw Black Jack Ketchum is rightly remembered for his "numb skull." 
(National Archives) 

to describe Blackjack as merely a stupid outlaw. After a fashion, he 
himself concurred with that sentiment. Whenever a caper of his 
went wrong, he would methodically beat himself on the head with 
the butt of a six-shooter, snarling, "You will, will you (slam)? Now 
take that (pop) and that (bang)!" 

Such therapy never did seem to work. It hadn t, some years 
earlier, when Ketchum, then working as a cowboy, returned to Clay 
ton, New Mexico, from a cattle drive and was handed a note from 
a pretty young thing named Cora, who had promised to wait for 
him. The letter was the "Dear John" sort, indicating she had run 
off with a cowpuncher named Slim, who weeks earlier had even 
watched Ketchum kiss his lady fair good-bye. Cora s final lines 
really affected Ketchum. "No more than you got out of sight than 
we went to Stanton and got married." 

Colonel Jack Potter recorded the sad tale in Sheriff and Police, 
telling how Ketchum went down to the bank of the Perico River to 
lash himself with his twisted saddle rope, "while cursing all wom 

It was this bitter experience that drove Black Jack and his 

Ketchum, Tom 199 

brother Sam to Wyoming s notorious Hole-in-the-Wall country, to 
take up Fulltime outlaw life. According to some western experts, 
Ketchum became one of the leaders of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang. 
This was not precisely accurate for, while some of the denizens of 
the area could more logically be called members of the Hole-in-the- 
Head gang, most were too smart to follow Ketchum. One of the 
superior intellects of the bunch, Butch Cassidy, was thoroughly be 
wildered that anyone would follow such a self-skull-smasher. 

Many of Blackjack s planned crimes turned into disasters, and 
if each member of his gang got $ 10 for his share, it could be consid 
ered a superior outing. Needless to say, Black Jack s gun and skull 
both took regular beatings. 

Late in 1898 Blackjack led his men on a train robbery, that of 
the Twin Flyer, near Twin Mountains, New Mexico. It was to prove 
a memorable heist even though the total loot came to less than 
$500. Black Jack hadn t experienced such a bonanza in some time 
and resolved to pull another train job. He could think of nothing 
better to do, however, than to stage a replay, hitting the same train 
at exactly the same spot. As a matter of fact, he hit the Twin Flyer 
a total of four times, which was, as Butch Cassidy could have in 
formed him and probably did, asking for trouble. 

The last caper occurred on July 11, 1899, and the law was 
waiting. Most of the gang was captured, including Ketchum, who 
was wounded in the shoulder. In due course Ketchum was con 
victed and hanged. His execution was considered such an impor 
tant event in 1901 that even the New York Times dispatched a 
correspondent to cover the event, which turned out to be rather 

After the black cap was adjusted over his head, Ketchum yelled 
out, "Let er go." When the trap was sprung, the weights proved to 
be poorly adjusted and the terrific jerk ripped Ketchum s head 
from his shoulders. It was left to some western wit to note that poor 
Black Jack could never get anything right. (See also: Ketchum, 

200 Bivens, Joseph, Jr. 

bivens, Joseph, Jr. (c.1862-1912) 

This country, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, had more 
than its share of cave dwellers; among them, Joseph "Coxey" Biv- 
ens, Jr., deserves special mention as well as the gratitude of arche- 
ologists. A by-product of Biven s life-style was the uncovering of 
many relics of the Iroquois and Algonquian Indians. 

To the residents of New York s Delaware Valley Bivens was an 
"odd coot"; at the same time he was a most engaging "river rat," 
with his unfailing ability to guide fishermen to spots where the 
"really big ones" were biting. 

As a boy he loved his Delaware River and was constantly ex 
ploring it. When his father died in a railroad accident, followed 
shortly to the grave by his grieving mother, young Bivens left the 
family home for refuge on his river. He fished for food, gathering 
such bait on the shores as dobson fly larvae and lamprey eels, both 
of which were great for catching bass; he then sold the bait to 
sportsmen, who were grateful not only for it but for Bivens guid 
ance in finding the best fishing spots. As a result, they often stood 
him for drinks at a nearby tavern. 

It was for Joseph Bivens a complete existence. He found a cave, 
where he lived in relative comfort, apparently laboring indus 
triously in it, leveling the floor with paved stones. Sixty feet long, 
ten feet high, it made spacious living quarters. 

If Bivens withdrew in many respects from society, he main 
tained a certain social consciousness. He was much upset by the 
great Panic of 1893, which threw three million persons out of work, 
and he was much taken by Jacob Sechler Coxey, better known as 
"General" Coxey, famed for leading his "army" of unemployed to 
Washington in 1894, demanding jobs through a public works pro 
gram. Bivens liked very much the idea that workers involved in 
these construction jobs would be paid $1.50 a day, and he talked 
enthusiastically of joining the "army." He promptly gave up the 
idea, however, when he learned that he would be required to walk 
the whole way to Washington. By that time, he had been so identi 
fied with the Coxey cause that he was thereafter nicknamed 
"Coxey" Bivens; to this day his river refuge is known as Coxey s 

Coxey remained there for another 18 years, until his death in 

Bivens, Joseph, Jr. 20 1 

1912. Since caves in the area were overrun with snakes, it was a 
popular belief that Coxey had a cure for snakebite. More likely he 
simply developed an immunity after being bitten several times. He 
often carried rattlesnakes in his pocket and displayed them to pas- 
sersby who requested the sight. Coxey realized other people were 
rather different than himself, "queer" by his standards. 

When he died in September 1912, the Narrowsburg Democrat 

The death of Joseph Bivens, of Narrowsburg, although 
occurring two weeks ago, is still being heralded in the county 
papers because of the peculiar life which he led. "Coxie" [sic] 
as he was called, was a man of good education but fell by the 
wayside like many another good man. He eked out a meagre 
existence working around the village and . . . had lived in a 
cave across the river from Narrowsburg. It was hardly a cave 
but simply an over-hanging rock with a few boards as a shel 
ter. Last winter relatives induced him to live with them during 
the cold spell. He remained two weeks and then went back to 
his cave. 

The cause of his death was a fall he had from a tree which 
he was repairing with an iron band to keep it from splitting. 
He lived a number of days after the fall and seemed all right, 
when he suddenly passed away. 

Joseph Bivens, although down and out, was a man well 
respected by everybody in his home town. Well-educated and 
of good character, always willing and anxious to do a good 
turn for a friend, he will be remembered by all with a feeling 
of deep regret for his loss. 

Coxey, as it developed, left his mark on Delaware Valley ar 
cheology. He "discovered" his cave, which was in fact more substan 
tial than the above account makes out, but he was by no means the 
first resident there. In the 1920s, a Pennsylvania archeologist, Dr. 
Max Schrabisch, found a number of Indian artifacts in Coxey s 
cave, unearthed by Bivens. This led to general excavations at the 
site and, under the flat stones that Bivens had laid, hundreds of 
Indian relics were discovered. The arrowheads, potsherds, net sink 
ers, and Indian pipes unearthed made the cave one of the most 
prized archeological finds in the area. 

As late as the 1950s, an impoverished family attempted to take 
up residence in Coxey s Cave, but the local welfare department soon 
rescued them instead, Coxey Bivens ways were no longer to be 

202 Ketchum, Sam 

Ketchum, Sam (1864-1899) 


It would be grossly unfair, in a work that credits Black Jack Tom 
Ketchum (q.v.) with being one of the great eccentrics of western 
outlawry, to omit mention of his brother Sam, amazingly known as 
Blackjack s even less smart brother. While Blackjack Ketchum was 
in prison awaiting trial and execution, the leadership of the Hole- 
in-the-Wall gang passed by default to Sam Ketchum. Brother Black 
Jack had been caught after four times robbing the same train at the 
same spot in New Mexico. It turned out that planning robberies 
was not Sam s strong suit either, if he indeed had any. Undaunted, 
Sam came up with what he regarded as a surefire plan: he and the 
boys would hold up the same train at the same time for the fifth 

Sam was mortally wounded in the attempt. 

Creffield Edmund Franz (1868-1906) 

He was most definitely a prophet not to trifle with. When Edmund 
Franz Creffield came to Oregon, he declared he ,was on a mighty 
mission, searching for the Second Messiah. Quite incidental to that, 
he found time to shake up the city of San Francisco with a mighty 
earthquake. Certainly Joshua Elijah or Joshua II the identity he 
appropriated for himself believed in his mighty mission and his 
power to cause upheavals and so did a number of followers, vir 
tually all of them women. The earthquake happened in 1906, but 
it was a long time coming. For a time Joshua Elijah was not only the 
sole prophet but also the sole communicant of his Church of the 
Bride of Christ. 

Creffield had been born in Germany and come to America in 

Creffield, Edmund Franz 203 

his teens. There he joined the Salvation Army, and by 1902 he was 
a commander of the group when he turned up in Corvallis, a rural 
village in western Oregon. Perhaps it was the climate but, for what 
ever reason, he transformed himself into Joshua Elijah Creffield 
with the avowed mission of fathering the Risen Christ. He expected 
to carry out this divine duty in Corvallis. 

Feeling a need for charisma, he grew himself a beard that 
covered much of his face and let his hair flow down well over his 
shoulders. It may be that poor Corvallis was plagued by America s 
original hippie, but the townsmen had. more to worry about than 
Joshua s appearance. The ladies, from matron to teenage girl, were 
just wild over Joshua. It turned out he was leading the women of 
the town in regular secret meetings in their various homes while 
their husbands were off at labor and the children at school or play. 
All this was of course to help Joshua find his new bride. There was 
a good deal of sermonizing from the Scriptures and the like, but 
invariably Joshua would shout, "Vile clothes, be gone!" and soon his 
devoted females were writhing naked on the floor. Teenage girls 
cut classes to take part in the meetings, and wives left dough un- 
kneaded and meals unprepared. They were too busy all afternoon 
obeying Joshua s call to "Roll, ye sinners, roll!" There followed al 
most inevitably a closer inspection of his flock by Joshua in search 
of potential Mothers of Christ. 

Such goings-on could not be long kept secret in a place like 
Corvallis, especially after four girls, ages 14 to 16, had to be 
shipped to the Oregon Boys and Girls Aid Society and a married 
woman committed to the state asylum at Salem. The townsmen 
figured out that mad Joshua was the source of all their woes, and a 
deputation called on him to get out of town. Creffield dismissed 
them with a wave of the hand, threatening to invoke God s ven 
geance. Apparently the men were impressed; at least they de 

Joshua s meetings then turned wilder, and he took to leading 
20 or so of his female followers to some river-bottom land south of 
town, where they could romp around in scenery more conducive to 
nudity and rolling away their sins. Alas, one day a photographer in 
the grass took some Brownie shots of exactly what was transpiring 
at these outdoor religious orgies, and soon well-fingered prints 
were circulated not only in Corvallis but in surrounding towns as 

Suddenly Joshua noticed that quite a few of his followers 
weren t coming around much anymore. Distressed husbands and 
angry fathers shipped a number of women off to stay with relatives 

204 Creffield, Edmund Franz 

elsewhere. Joshua countered this by announcing he d found himself 
a wife, Maude Hurt, daughter of a leading family. Slowly, the meet 
ings got back into a regular swing. 

Finally male sentiment reached the tar-and-feathering stage, 
and in January 1904 Joshua was duly dispatched from town, thor 
oughly pitched and feather-decorated. 

There was however no keeping a good messiah down, and 
Joshua soon sneaked back and was uncovered in flagrante delicto 
with the wife of a prominent citizen. Joshua escaped a buckshotting, 
but the husband took out a warrant charging adultery, and Joshua s 
reluctant father-in-law, Victor Hurt, offered a $150 reward for his 
capture. Maude got a divorce. 

Joshua remained at large three months until he was caught, 
bone skinny and dirty, hiding all the time right under the crawl 
space of the Hurt house. Several women had fed him scraps they 
smuggled out of their kitchens. He was put on trial on the adultery 
charge, convicted by a jury of men, and shipped off to the state 
prison for two years. 

Joshua was released in December 1905 and moved to Seatde, 
where Maude Hurt soon rejoined him, and they remarried. They 
moved in with Mrs. Creffield s brother and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. 
Frank Hurt of Seattle. Joshua named Frank Hurt as the Gabriel of 
his movement and ordered him to establish a commune for the 
faithful at Waldport, on the Oregon coast. 

Joshua also announced he had at last picked his Bride of 
Christ, 17-year-old Esther Mitchell, one of the prettiest and most 
obedient rollers back in Corvallis. He advised the men of Corvallis 
not to interfere or else he just might bring down the fury of his 
wrath on Seattle, Portland, Corvallis, and San Francisco. In fact, he 
said he d be doing that soon anyway and advised all those wishing 
to be saved from the destruction to come to his Garden of Eden at 

Then Joshua himself headed back to Oregon. On April 18, 
1906 the telegraph wires hummed with news of San Francisco smol 
dering in smoking ruins. Joshua was gleeful. "Didn t I tell you I 
would call down God s curse? This is only the beginning." 

Quite naturally the converts started pouring into Waldport, led 
by Esther Mitchell. Other Corvallis women were restrained only 
because their menfolk locked them in their cellars. Some men 
grabbed their shotguns and headed for a showdown with Joshua. 
However, when they got to Waldport they discovered Joshua had 
fled, with his religious bride Esther, undoubtedly having been for 
tuitously forewarned from on high. 

Creffield, Edmund Franz 205 

Early in May, young George Mitchell, Esther s brother, heard 
that Joshua had turned up in Seattle once again, and he headed 
there, a .38 tucked under his arm. George found Joshua standing 
on a street corner, stepped up behind him, pressed the revolver to 
his neck and pulled the trigger. The guru collapsed in a pool of 
blood, dead. Despite the protests from Esther and the Hurts that 
Joshua would soon arise, he was planted, very much dead, in Lake 
View Cemetery. 

George Mitchell was brought to trial for killing Creffield, but 
the juicy tale of Joshua s sexual escapades guaranteed he would be 
found not guilty for killing his sister s lover. Applause ringing in his 
ears after the verdict came in, George headed for Union Station to 
catch a train back to Oregon. As hundreds of tourists watched, 
Esther Mitchell appeared at the train station and walked up behind 
her brother and shot him through the head. 

She eventually was committed to an asylum while Maude Hurt 
took poison while awaiting her own trial. She had bought the gun 
Esther used. 

In June all that remained at the Garden of Eden commune, 
five women and a baby, were found almost naked and near to star 
vation. They had been living on nothing but mussels. Somehow they 
hadn t heard that Joshua had gone to his reward. They were still 
waiting his return and were sure that he had already carried out 
his destruction of much of the outside world. They had to be forc 
ibly shipped back to Corvallis. 

That town for long thereafter remained on the alert for any 
invasion of outsiders. In 1936 the good burghers of the town even 
refused to allow Socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas 
to speak there. They had had quite enough of prophets of any 

206 How, James Eads 

How, James Eads (1868-1930) 


Few heirs who turned down a fortune were at the same time more 
ridiculed by many and applauded by some than James Eads How, 
who became known as the "Millionaire Hobo." How was the grand 
son of James Eads, the famed bridge builder, and when his mother, 
Eliza Ann Eads How, died she left him a quarter of a million dollars. 
Eads refused to touch the money, insisting that he believed it was 
wrong to live on money that one had not earned oneself. 

Instead he took to the open road, becoming famed, or notori 
ous some would say, as a tramp in threadbare clothing. He trekked 
almost exclusively by foot, although he "rode the rods" along with 
other hoboes; he made his way around the country working at 
whatever he could get. 

In some places he was welcomed as a hero; but in others he 
was castigated for being a fool, and some folks denied him work, 
saying he was taking jobs from those in true need. He was arrested 
on a number of occasions for vagrancy, and sometimes escorted to 
a town s limits and told to leave. 

At times How was found in dire physical shape for lack of food; 
this was not always caused by privation because of want of money. 
How also had the eccentric idea that any bodily ailment could be 
cured by total abstinence from food, and it was virtually impossible 
to shake him of this conviction. Whenever he was committed to a 
hospital for treatment for his condition, How refused to pay any 
bills, insisting he had no money of his own. 

In 1930, How picked his way to Cincinnati, where an old family 
friend and attorney, Nicholas Klein, lived. He got as far as Union 
Depot in Cincinnati. There he fainted. Travelers Aid called Klein 
to tell him a strange, unkempt man had passed out from hunger 
and was asking for him. 

The puzzled Klein hurried to the station, only to find How 
sitting on a bench, stooped, his head bowed. His face was haggard 
and seamed, his laborer s clothes shabby and torn. "I scarcely rec 
ognized him," Klein said later. 

Klein immediately rushed How to his home, fed him, and 
called a doctor. The doctor found How dying on the edge of star 
vation. After he was somewhat revived by food and sleep, he was 
able to talk and said he doubted he would live. He told Klein that 

Green, Ned 207 

was why he had come, to confer with him about making a will. How 
had managed to survive in a rich America, but now in a nation 
several months deep into the Great Depression, he had been unable 
to find work or food. 

To his ex-wife he left only "whatever she may be entitled by 
law" (which proved to be negligible) and $5 each to a brother and 
stepson. He repeated this was not to demonstrate any disaffection 
toward them but because of his firm belief that no one should seek 
to live on inherited wealth, on money he or she had not worked for. 
The rest of his estate, he said, was to be set up in trust for "benefit 
and behoof of the workers of the World, especially for the educa 
tion of the disemployed." 

Ironically, because How had always rejected his inheritance, it 
had been kept in cash; thus it had escaped the great debacle of the 
stock market and had grown to over one million dollars. The 
Depression might well have killed How, but it had not damaged the 
fortune How had so detested. 

Greea Ned (1868-1936) 


As the son of Hetty Green (q.v.), (America s greatest female miser), 
Ned Green never shared his mother s fondness for penny-pinching. 
During her lifetime, he managed to keep his spendthrift ways rel 
atively under control. However, on inheriting half of his mother s 
$100 million in 1916, Ned, a six-foot-four-inch, 300-pounder with 
a wooden leg, gave to the term cashflow a new and torrential mean 
ing. Until his death two decades later, he managed, in boom years 
or bust, to spend money at the phenomenal rate of $3 million a 

Ned as a child knew the misfortune of lacking money, even 
though his mother, Hetty, was astoundingly rich. She hauled him 
to school in a cart and, in lieu of heavy clothing, stuffed his clothes 
with newspapers to keep out the biting wind. Because his mother 
was too stingy to pay for medical attention for him when he was 

208 Green, Ned 

Profligate son of a miserly mother, Ned Green squandered $3 million a year in life and 
still left behind an estate so vast to result in a reduction of the Massachusetts tax rates. 
(Library of Congress) 

involved in a childhood sledding accident, his knee became in 
fected and eventually his leg had to be amputated. 

Ned never seemed to exhibit any bitterness toward his mother 
because of her parsimonious treatment of him. During her final 
hours he tenderly eased her passing by bringing in trained nurses 
to minister to her. However, he insisted they attend her in street 
clothes rather than their uniforms. Nurses cost as much as one 
dollar an hour, and the loving son realized the thought of squan 
dering such a sum would send Hetty into immediate death throes. 

Hetty did allow her son some profligate activities while she was 
alive. Some said it was because of guilt feelings over Ned s loss of a 
leg. Thus, when Momma sent him to Texas to see what he could do 
on his own, running one of her railroads, Colonel Green as he 
was known to the Texans who handed out such titles in direct pro- 

Green, Ned 209 

portion to one s bankroll was soon soaring over the irons in a 
private Pullman car named Mabel (after a Chicago prostitute he 
was exceedingly fond of). Hetty had made Ned promise at the 
pain of being disinherited that he would not marry, and Ned 
agreed, contenting himself with a long string of mistresses, most 
recruited from the finest call houses of the era, including Chicago s 
fabulous Everleigh Club. 

When Hetty died, Ned came into his own, launching on his 
great never-ending spending spree. Ned s business interests were 
far flung, and he was required to sit on numerous boards of Hetty s 
financial empire. Business affairs bored him, however, and he gen 
erally was silent during directors meetings, speaking only to make 
motions to adjourn. 

Ned Green had more serious matters of concern, ranging from 
stamp collecting (he had the world s largest collection), teenage girls 
(not the world s largest accumulation, perhaps, but a substantial one 
consisting of a few dozen, many of whom he promised to put 
through college; alas, most flunked out), racing automobiles, $1 
million yachts, and diamond-studded chamber pots. 

Jewelry w r as one of his greatest passions. Ned collected dia 
mond-encrusted chastity belts as well as chamber pots. He often 
traveled with a diamond broker who acted as sort of a court jeweler 
so that he could make purchases, properly appraised, as the mood 
struck him. Quite commonly Ned would make his buys in a jewelry 
store, while his limousine was double-parked outside. 

Within a month of Hetty s death, Ned married Mabel and en 
sconced her in a mansion in New Bedford, Massachusetts, her pres 
ence irritating the high-society neighbors almost as much as the 
blimp he kept moored to the property. 

One of Ned s crowning ambitions was to own the world s largest 
private yacht and, unable to build because of the Great War, he 
sought to purchase vessels belonging to J. P. Morgan or Vincent 
Astor. Neither was willing to sell. In frustration Ned had to settle 
for a Great Lakes passenger boat named United States, which was 
available for $1 million. Although it had 5 decks and a displacement 
of 2,054 tons, Green was unhappy with its length of a mere 225 
feet, less than either the Morgan or Astor models. 

To amend this sorry defect, Ned had the vessel sawed in two 
and 40 additional feet added to the length at midship. The United 
States was equipped with the best of everything, its main cabin 
sporting an open fieldstone fireplace and its nine master suites, all 
lavishly furnished by John Wanamaker, having their own baths. 
The craft required a staff captain, a navigating captain, and a crew 

210 Green, Ned 

of 71. It took 660 tons of coal a year just to keep the fire lines and 
shower baths activated. Ned had his wish, the largest and costliest 
private yacht in existence, but the distinction didn t last long. Under 
circumstances never fully fathomed, the United States sank one day 
in 16 feet of water, while at its moorings. Ned trimmed his sails 
after that, acquiring a smaller vessel called Day Dream, which had 
sleeping accommodations for merely 70. 

Ned was never fully accepted by high society. Some of his din 
ner parties consisted of his favorite food as a main course over 
sized hot dogs and his wine cellar was sniffed at by connoisseurs 
as, in the words of one, "simply dreadful." Still, Ned had no time 
for slights. He was the darling of the winter season in Florida, 
speeding into Miami, on the way handing out $20 gold pieces to 
every cop he saw (a practice that earned him special dispensations 
on traffic regulations). 

He furnished a Mississippi showboat and threw lavish parties 
attended by hundreds of people he didn t know. Ned in the mean 
time busied himself with his various collections. It is to be lamented 
that death cut him off in 1936, when he had just started his newest 
passion, collecting whale penises, leading off with a most impressive 

Oddly, despite Ned s mad expenditure of $3 million a year on 
yachts, girls, diamonds, hot dogs, and other sundries, his estate was 
still estimated at over $50 million and inheritance taxes to Massa 
chusetts worked out to be well over $5 million equal to all other 
inheritance taxes collected by the state from all other estates that 
year. This windfall allowed Massachusetts to pare its tax rates by 30 
percent in 1939. It was a form of altruism that Hetty Green would 
never have abided, but her wastrel son was still squandering money 
in his grave. 

Mallon, Mary 211 

Halloa Mary (1868-1938) 

In a sense Mary Mallon, who became known worldwide as "Typhoid 
Mary," was a genuinely pathetic eccentric. For almost two decades 
she was coinsidered the most dangerous woman in America, 
hounded by her fellow man, although she was guilty of no inten 
tional wrong. Like the leper of old, she was branded unclean. She 
was simply a walking epidemic, her body swarming with typhoid 
germs, although she never showed any of the symptoms herself. 
From 1897 to 1915 she worked as a cook, from the New York area 
to Maine, and infected 57 people with typhoid, of whom at least 
three died. It was believed that her toll of infected and dead 
was probably greater, but that the illness was not always correctly 

Her first known spreading of typhoid fever occurred in 1897, 
when the buxom blonde Irishwoman turned up as a cook for a well- 
to-do family in Mamaroneck, New York. Within a week and a half 
of her employment, every member of the household the entire 
family and the servants came down with typhoid. All save Mary 
Mallon, who disappeared before doctors could examine her. 

For the next decade Mary moved from job to job as a cook in 
private homes or restaurants in New York and New England, and 
everywhere Mary went someone came down with typhoid and away 
she went. In 1906 she turned up in Oyster Bay, New York, working 
for another well-to-do family. One evening shortly after her em 
ploy, Mary Mallon made a lavish dinner for a number of guests; 
shortly thereafter several of them turned up in the hospital, sick 
with fever soon diagnosed as typhoid. 

By that time, Mary Mallon had disappeared again, but she had 
been identified; within a year she was run down by public health 
officials in New York City. When Dr. George Soper, the city s sani 
tary engineer, explained to her that she was the first known typhoid 
carrier in the country and that he wished to have her submit to 
medical tests, she flew into a rage and sent him fleeing from her 
attack with a rolling pin and carving knife. Finally, five burly police 
men came around and subdued her. 

The case then became public knowledge, and she was dubbed 
Typhoid Mary by the press. She was hauled off to hospital isolation 
and subjected to a year of tests. It was found that she was indeed a 

212 Mallon, Mary 

carrier. The typhoid germs had most probably settled in her gall 
bladder; removal of the organ might well eliminate her problem. 
Not being of a particularly scientific bent and feeling no pain from 
her gallbladder, Mary refused the operation. 

In the meantime a public debate developed on the morality of 
keeping her incarcerated; she obviously had committed no crime. 
Hurriedly a number of states passed Typhoid Mary laws, which 
would prevent her from ever cooking within their jurisdictions. 
Finally in 1910, after a number of indecisive court battles, Mary 
won her freedom on condition that she refrain from working as a 
cook or engage in the handling of foods, and that she report to the 
city Health Department every three months. 

Immediately on release Typhoid Mary disappeared, and for 
five years, frequently changing her name, she managed to elude 
health authorities. She went right back to working in kitchens, in 
cluding stints at a Broadway restaurant, a sanitorium, and a Long 
Island hotel. On these occasions, she got away just before the au 
thorities closed in. In 1915 there was an awesome outbreak of ty 
phoid at the Sloane Hospital for Women. Twenty-five nurses and 
attendants were stricken, and two died. Mary was discovered to 
have been in the kitchen "spreading germs among mothers and 
babies and doctors and nurses like a destroying angel." She had fled 
but was soon recognized as a cook in a Long Island home, and she 
was taken into custody for the last time. 

Typhoid Mary was sent to a hospital on North Brothers Island, 
which she was to leave only in death. For years she did nothing but 
brood and read books, but later on she was happy to be kept busy 
as a lab technician keeping records. Typhoid Mary died November 
11, 1938, at the age of 70, after 23 years of confinement. 

Jenkins, Florence Foster 2 1 3 

Jenkins, Florence Foster (1868-1944) 

One of the most fabulous concerts in the hallowed history of Car 
negie Hall was staged October 25, 1944, a bright moment in the 
grim days of war. Performing was the noted coloratura soprano 
Florence Foster Jenkins, and so great was the demand for tickets 
that they were scalped at the then-outrageous price of $20 apiece. 
More than 2,000 lovers of music had to be turned away. It had been 
so at many of Madame Jenkins public performances of the previous 
more than 30 years. Police often had to be called out to herd off 
gate-crashers at such events. 

The remarkable aspect of it all was the fact that Madame Jen 
kins had a voice that was not even poor but downright preposter 
ous. As one observer put it, "She clucked and squawked, trumpeted 

Florence Foster Jenkins, the noted if controversial coloratura soprano, at the unveiling 
of a bust of herself. Of her singing, a Newsweek critic once noted, she "sounds as if she 
was afflicted with low, nagging backache." (Wide World) 

214 Jenkins, Florence Foster 

and quavered." Critics could say that she could not carry a tune, 
that she was "the first lady of the sliding scale," that she lacked a 
sense of rhythm, and that her voice in reaching for high notes 
simply vanished from the hearing of the living, taking the audience 
to the upper registers and then over a precipice into sudden silence. 
As Newsweek commented, "In high notes, Mrs. Jenkins sounds as if 
she was afflicted with low, nagging backache." 

Different audiences reacted in various ways to her perfor 
mances. Some roared with laughter until tears rolled down their 
cheeks, while others sat in utter silence, according her unique voice 
an attention befitting the world s greatest singers* 

Some may find it surprising then that many distinguished mu 
sicians and singers including the great Enrico Caruso held for 
her genuine affection and respect. Hers was the gentlest of all mad 
nesses, one that was completely harmless, although tinged with 
something between ghastliness and magnificence. Her determina 
tion to sing was simply unquenchable. People may have inevitably 
laughed at her singing but, as one critic conceded, "the applause 
was real." 

Born into a staid Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, banking family, 
young Florence Foster took music lessons and at the age of eight 
had a piano recital in Philadelphia. At 17, she asked to go abroad 
to seek a professional career in music. Father Foster, holding to the 
Victorian line that women belonged at home serving tea, refused. 
In anger, Florence eloped with a young doctor, Frank Thornton 
Jenkins. It was not a successful marriage, and they divorced in 

Cut off from all aid by her father, she earned a bare existence 
as a teacher and pianist. In 1909 Father Foster died. He had not 
carried his anger to the grave, however, leaving Florence a large 
inheritance. Free of money worries for the rest of her life, Madame 
Jenkins in her forties launched a career in her first love, singing. 

By 1912 Madame Jenkins staged her maiden concert, footing 
the entire costs herself, performing for society club women. She 
soon was performing regularly in Newport, Washington, Boston, 
and Saratoga Springs. The club women who rallied loyally to her 
were no doubt more tone-deaf than discriminating. However, it was 
all for a good cause. Madame Jenkins recitals usually made consid 
erable amounts of money, and the proceeds were given to needy 
young artists. Madame Jenkins also contributed much of her in 
come to such causes. As a close friend said, "She only thought of 
making other people happy." 

Her recitals soon attracted the attention of critics, and their 

Jenkins, Florence Foster 215 

first reactions were always moments of great note. In time some 
critics took to composing marvelously ambiguous reviews that 
added mirth to what were otherwise profoundly distressing expe 
riences for them. 

Madame Jenkins was in her element. She recorded her voice; 
such an original recording is today a collector s item. She was unri 
valed in her live performances, all of which were staged with appro 
priate lavishness, bordering on the ridiculous. In one number, 
amidst a cascade of flowers and greenery, Madame Jenkins offered 
one of her favorites, "Angel of Inspiration," properly bewinged in 
an angel s outfit. For "Clavelitos," she wore a large red flower in her 
hair, a bright Spanish shawl, and fluttered an enormous fan. At the 
proper cadences, she also heaved handfuls of rosebuds upon the 
audience, sometimes getting so carried away by the spirit of it all 
that she tossed out the wicker basket as well. It was a sensational 
showstopper, and the ecstatic audience often applauded wildly for 
an encore. She would order an assistant to hurry into the audience 
to harvest the blossoms so the routine could be repeated. 

At times, of course, the raucous laughter grew so intense that 
Madame Jenkins could not overlook it. She simply rationalized it as 
the work of boorish hoodlums acting on orders from singers af 
flicted with "professional jealousy," employing a sort of reverse 
claque system. 

In 1943, at the age of 75, she was involved in a taxi collision 
and, for a time, entertained the thought of filing a lawsuit. How 
ever, she found the trauma had given her the ability to sustain "a 
higher F than ever before." Delighted, she sent the driver a box of 
expensive cigars instead and scheduled another performance. 

In 1944, Madame Jenkins, urged on by her fans, made her 
grand performance at Carnegie Hall. At her age, she realized her 
career was nearing its end; such a recital would b/the appropriate 
crowning achievement. / 

She offered all her grandest selections, although in "Clavelitos" 
she refrained from hurling the basket. Some reviewers felt it incum 
bent to mention such facts as "her singing was hopelessly lacking in 
semblance of pitch" or that "she was undaunted by ... the compos 
er s intent." However, on the whole, the reviews were extremely 
gentle and not without feeling. One noted "a certain poignancy to 
her delivery" and another wrote, "Her attitude was at all times that 
of a singer who performed her task to the best of her ability." 
Robert Eager of the New York World-Telegram perhaps summed it up 
best: "She was exceedingly happy in her work. It is a pity so few 
artists are. And her happiness was communicated as if by magic to 

216 MacFadden, Bernarr 

her listeners who were stimulated to the point of audible cheering, 
even joyous laughter and ecstasy by the inimitable singing." 

What really impressed most critics and virtually all of her au 
dience was Madame Jenkins ability to soften the ridicule and dis 
arm derision. That she did so with remarkable, even touching, self- 
deception only enhanced her rapport with her listeners. 

One month after her triumphant Carnegie Hall performance, 
Florence Foster Jenkins died, but in her three-decade career, she 
had long ago written her own epitaph. "Some may say I couldn t 
sing, but no one can say that I didn t sing." If the self-deception 
was not all encompassing, there was no doubt she was correct in her 
belief that her courageous singing brought extreme pleasure to 
her audiences. 

MacFaddea Bernarr (1868-1955) 


Magazine publisher and health faddist, Bernarr MacFadden is 
proof of the axiom that yesterday s eccentric can be tomorrow s 
prophet. There is no doubt that MacFadden was a "nutball," as a 
former protege, Walter Winchell, described him. Yet by the time he 
died, Time magazine, which never held him in too high esteem, did 
have to note that MacFadden was "the modern pioneer of such 
things as the low-heel shoe, the bed board, enriched flour, sun 
bathing, brief swimsuits and many of the foods known today to be 
richest in vitamins." 

He more than anyone made people muscle- and exercise-con 
scious; he did more to curtail the sales of worthless patent medi 
cines; and he above all changed the reading habits of the country. 
MacFadden was the inventor of confession and fact-detective mag 
azines, as well as newspaper lonely-hearts and gossip columns. It 
was MacFadden who introduced to the world the new technique of 
peephole writing; he, after all, originated the column written by a 
young Walter Winchell, who had come up with a crackling kind of 
slanguage, which he was so proud of that he always read his col- 

MacFadden, Bernarr 2 1 7 

On his 84th birthday, Bernarr MacFadden, sporting a parachute halter and red long- 
Johns, danced a jig on the west bank of the Seine after making a jump from a two-engined 
plane to prove his health theories. (Wide World) 

limns aloud. MacFadden developed another top columnist, Ed Sul 
livan. His right-hand man was Fulton Oursler, who wrote of 
MacFadden in tones he later reserved for God in his bestselling The 
Greatest Story Ever Told. 

At one point in the late 1920s, MacFadden owned 10 extremely 
profitable magazines, including True Story, Physical Culture, and 
Model Airplane. He was also the creator and publisher of the New 
York Evening Graphic, easily the worst newspaper in America, as well 
as nine other newspapers. He was by then worth an estimated $30 

Although he remained hale well into his 87th year he attrib 
uted that mostly to the fact that he never saw a doctor (he called 
them quacks) it was doubtful for a time that he would survive his 
childhood. He was born in 1868, of a consumptive mother and a 
father who was the town drunk. Ailing and believed to have tuber 
culosis, he ran away from home at 12. He soon saved up enough 
money to buy a pair of dumbbells and took up body-building. In 
1898, MacFadden launched Physical Culture, his first and always fa 
vorite magazine. It proved to be an immediate success. 

2 18 MacFadden, Bernarr 

The press delighted in calling him "Body Love MacFadden." 
At his magazine offices, he sat at a desk in the middle of the floor 
while his editors labored on balcony levels above him. At any in 
stant, MacFadden might pounce on top of his desk and lead his 
editors in required exercises; from his vantage point he could spot 
any slackers. 

The Graphic s office always looked like the most unlikely place 
for a newspaper. It was also the mecca for the physical-culture nuts 
who followed MacFadden. Once, the staff arrived for duty, only to 
find characters hanging by their hair from pipes all over the place. 
It was a competition to see who was the man with "the strongest 
hair in the world." 

The Graphic allowed MacFadden s wacky mind to run unre 
strained. William Randolph Hearst, no amateur at the art of fakery 
himself, was outraged with the way MacFadden doctored photo 
graphs to illustrate ridiculous stories. Otherwise blase New Yorkers 
pounced on certain issues of the Graphic when word went out that 
it was outrageously sexy that day. Newsboys promptly hiked the 
price of the two-cent paper to a nickel or even a dime. 

Some typical MacFadden stories are best reflected by their 
headlines, such as: 


"I KILLED HIM, WHAT LL I DO?" [The paper was deluged 
with suggestions from readers, almost all unprintable.] 





The classic tale, still told in journalism schools, concerned a 
patient who escaped from a booby hatch and promptly raped a girl. 
The way the headline came up at the Graphic, it read: "NUT 
BOLTS AND SCREWS." MacFadden agonized for a half an hour 
but finally decided it wouldn t do. However, since he felt the copy 
editor who came up with that gem was really trying, he gave him a 
five-dollar raise on the spot. 

MacFadden s competitors were incensed by his ethics and 
called his rag the Porno-Graphic; in truth it remained so bizarre that, 
although it sold well, it could not make money because advertisers 
avoided it. Not so with MacFadden s magazines. It was agreed that 
MacFadden instinctively grasped the lowest common denominator 

MacFadden, Bernarr 2 1 9 

of public taste. Still, in eight years of publication, he lost $8 million 
on the newspaper. 

In his magazines, he was accepted as one of the great arbiters 
on health matters. Many readers followed his advice, taking 20-mile 
hikes, eschewing breakfasts, steaks, and alcohol, and instead gob 
bling down nuts, raw carrots, and beet juice. 

MacFadden s wife divorced him in 1930. Under his direction, 
she had provided him with four girls, conceived by following 
MacFadden s rules of sex determination. Then Body Love decided 
he d like four boys. His wife provided three, then finally rebelled 
at his "no-doctors" rule. That finished that marriage. 

There s no doubt that in later years MacFadden s fortune dwin 
dled, drained by his physical-culture schemes and his penny restau 
rants, which he started on the basis that the cheapest foods were 
the best. MacFadden s overhead proved too high. In the 1940s he 
sold all his magazines. 

MacFadden remained in the public eye however. When he was 
80 he married a woman half his age and took her off to the wild 
rugged life. He celebrated almost every birthday after 80 by para 
chuting from an airplane at low altitude into some river. He did it 
in New York s Hudson River, and at 84 he took Paris by storm, 
dropping into the Seine. Amid cries of "Bravo, MacFadden!" he 
danced a jig and announced he d continue his jumps every year 
"until I am 120 and then I ll try to live until I am 150. 

He didn t make it though. In October 1955 he died of a cere 
bral thrombosis. But he was healthy till the day he died, and no 
doctor had ever laid hands on him in his adulthood, except for 
examinations he needed to get his pilot license. 

MacFadden may have died just in the nick of time. He d just 
about finished running through his $30 million. He was down to 
his last $50,000 or so in cash. 

220 Connelly, James Leo 

Connelly, James Leo "One-Eyed" (1869-1953) 

A hobby that became a half-century obsession made a one-eyed 
former boxer named James Leo Connelly the acknowledged world 
champion gate-crasher. He lost an eye in a boxing accident at the 
age of eighteen, and thereafter he decided "to take me other eye 
and see the world." One-Eyed Connelly s world was mostly sporting 
events, later on, political conventions, and he boasted he saw every 
heavyweight championship fight since 1897, except for three that 
did not strike his fancy all without paying, since he figured the 
sporting world "owed" him for the loss of his eye. 

He crossed the United States 102 times on gate-crashing mis 
sions, also making forays into Australia and Europe. He pulled off 
his amusing, amazing tricks by posing as an ice man, carpenter, 
deliveryman, vendor, or whatever other role or dodge he found 

One-Eyed launched his oddball career in 1897, when he an 
nounced to New York friends that he intended to go to Carson City, 
Nevada, to witness the big championship bout between Bob Fitz- 
simmons and Gentleman Jim Corbett. When his friends laughed at 
the idea, since he was as usual dead broke, he made a number of 
bets that he could get to Nevada and furthermore get into the "big 
go" for free. Connelly made it to Carson City by riding the freights, 
then he approached promoter Dan Stuart with an awesome tale. 
He said he had been in a local saloon and overheard a couple of 
mean mugs plotting to bump off fight referee George Siler if the 
fight didn t go the way they were betting. "They re planning to plug 
him from ringside with a six-gun." 

Promoter Stuart was terribly shaken and wanted to know if 
One-Eyed could identify the toughs. "Not by name," One-Eyed said, 
with a straight face, "but if I saw them again, I d recognize them." 
Naturally the fight promoter went for the bait and gave him a choice 
seat with the idea that One-Eyed would point out the villains as 
soon as he spotted them. One-Eyed never did, but he thoroughly 
enjoyed the fight in which Fitzsimmons dethroned Corbett in 14 

After the fight, promoter Stuart was furious, realizing he had 
been conned by "a cocky Irishman," and his howl reached all the 

Connelly, James Leo 22 1 

way back to Manhattan so that One-Eyed s cronies paid their wagers 
without protest. One-Eyed Connelly s reputation was made and, 
although promoters vowed to keep the great moocher out of their 
arenas, he continually outwitted them, just as he promised news 
paper reporters he would. 

In 1899 he crashed the match between Fitzsimmons and Jim 
Jeffries in Coney Island by parading through the gate with a case 
full of stage money. He gave a gateman a quick flash and an 
nounced, "Change for the box office." 

Connelly never permitted his "business career" to interfere 
with his gate-crashing duties, mainly because he had no career, 
holding on to various jobs only long enough to gain a stake and to 
allow him to spend his summers as a park-bench sleeper. Occasion 
ally, he did stints as an elevator operator, circus roustabout, waiter, 
newsboy, or steeplejack, all endeavors he instantly abandoned when 
there was an event he had to attend. The last named occupation 
stood him in good stead in Milwaukee once when, because the 
promoter had vowed to keep him out at all costs, he simply sneaked 
in during the night preceding the fight. He climbed to a girder well 
above ringside, lashed himself there, and went to sleep. When he 
was spotted during the ring contest, the fans gave him an enormous 
ovation. The promoter, by public demand, was forced to buy One- 
Eyed a steak dinner. 

In 1908 Connelly stowed away aboard a ship to Australia for 
the tide match between Tommy Burns and Jack Johnson in Sydney. 
He got caught and had to work for his passage, but this did not 
violate his gate-crashing rules. Once landed, he easily got into the 
fight by posing as a deliveryman lugging a huge carton marked 
"Boxing Gloves." 

Shortly after World War I, he trekked to England for the bout 
between Joe Beckett and Georges Carpentier. He crashed it easily 
but then disaster struck. One-Eyed made it to ringside and, just as 
the fight started, he actually shook hands with the Prince of Wales, 
who was so amused by his exploit that he handed him a gold sover 
eign. Unfortunately, while Connelly was involved with royalty, his 
back turned to the ring, Carpentier scored a quick kayo; One-Eyed 
had crossed the ocean only to miss seeing the fight. 

At the contest between Jack Dempsey and Carpentier in 1921 
in Jersey City, Connelly was tossed out of 13 of 15 entrances, but 
he made it through the fourteenth. He recalled, "I borrowed a pail 
of coffee and a basket of sandwiches from the telegraph crew, and 
the gateman thought I was a vendor." With similar magic he 

222 Connelly, James Leo 

crashed the Dempsey-Tom Gibbons battle in Shelby, Montana, in 
1923, by pretending to be an iceman lugging an 80-pound block of 
ice through the door for the coolers. 

As his fame grew, some promoters became reconciled to Con 
nelly s inevitable presence. The legendary Tex Rickard once offered 
him a pass to a fight. One-Eyed rejected the offer as contrary to 
the rules of gate-crashing. Then, at the night of the fight, he 
slipped in and ensconced himself in Rickard s private box. 

In the 1920s, One-Eyed s interest in public affairs perked up, 
and he took to crashing political conventions. At one Democratic 
nominating session, he easily got past security guards by carrying a 
door he had appropriated from a nearby cafe. In 1928, at the 
Democratic convention in Houston, Texas, Connelly was recognized 
by a cop who handcuffed him to a bench outside the convention 
hall That was just raw meat to One-Eyed, who simply picked up 
the bench and paraded through the gate, explaining, "They want 
this on the speaker s platform." 

Connelly s interests were not limited to boxing and politics. 
During the 1930s, he could be counted on each year to crash the 
Kentucky Derby, the big Indianapolis auto races, and the World 
Series. When, however, it was once suggested that he crash the 
Army-Navy football games, he was offended. "That wouldn t be 
patriotic," he sniffed. 

In 1945, Connelly, by then in his mid-seventies, announced his 
retirement from the gate-crashing racket, describing it as a younger 
man s game. Over the next eight years of his life, he supported 
himself as a greeter at a saloon owned by friends, an elevator op 
erator, and an usher at political and sporting events. 

In Chicago s Wrigley Field, during the World Series between 
the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers, he stopped a suspicious character 
heading for a choice box seat. 

"Who are you?" he demanded. 

"R K. Wrigley, Jr.," the man answered, producing identification 
showing him to be the owner of the Chicago team. 

"That," the dubious Connelly declared, "is for the birds." He 
gave the man the bum s rush. 

One-Eyed Connelly was fired for that one, proving to him that 
the angels were not on the side of the anti-gate crashers after all 

Lawson, Alfred William 223 

Alfred William (1869-1954) 

Alfred William Lawson, Supreme Head and First Knowlegian of 
the University of Lawsonomy, at Des Moines, Iowa, often estimated 
he was born ten or twenty thousand years ahead of his time, that 
much more advanced was he over the so-called thinkers of the 20th 

His biographer, one Cy Q. Faunce, declares: 

To try to write a sketch of the life and works of Alfred W. 
Lawson in a few pages is like trying to restrict space itself. It 
cannot be done. . . . Who is there among us mortals today who 
can understand Lawson when he goes below a certain level? 
There seems to be no limit to the depths of his mental activi 
ties . . . countless human minds will be strengthened and kept 
busy for thousands of years developing the limitless branches 
that emanate from the trunk and roots of the greatest tree of 
wisdom ever nurtured by the human race. 

Born some 20,000 years ahead of his time, self-proclaimed visionary Alfred W. Lawson, 
founder of the University of Lawsonomy, appeared before the U.S. Senate Small Business 
Committee. Lawson was little surprised that the logic of his "Suction and Pressure" 
theory eluded the congressmen. (Wide World) 

224 Lawson, Alfred William 

Faunce was right about one thing few mortals would under 
stand Lawson, although the suspicion, based on writing styles, 
would not die that Faunce was really Lawson himself. There were a 
few thousand praises Lawson felt inhibited saying in the first per 
son. Thus it was left for Faunce to announce, "The birth of Lawson 
was the most momentous occurrence since the birth of mankind." 

Altogether, Lawson churned out more than 50 books and pam 
phlets in which he developed what he called the new science of 
Lawsonomy, perhaps best defined in his 1923 work, Manlife. The 
publishers of this tome declared: "In comparison to Lawson s Law 
of Penetrability and Zig-Zag-and-Swirl movement, Newton s law of 
gravitation is but a primer lesson, and the lessons of Copernicus 
and Galileo are but infinitesimal grains of knowledge." Lawson of 
course was the publisher of Manlife. 

Lawson saw the cosmos as being without either energy or 
empty space; to him it merely was composed of substances of vary 
ing densities. Substances of heavy density simply moved toward 
those of lesser density through the actions of the two "great discov 
eries" of Lawson Suction and Pressure. The underlying principle 
behind it all he called Penetrability. "This law was too far reaching 
for the superannuated professors of physics," Lawson wrote, ". . . 
but little by little the rising generations of advancing scholars have 
begun to grasp its tremendous value." 

One thing these scholars would have to master, Lawson said, 
was the theory of Zig-Zag-and-Swirl; this he defined as "movement 
in which any formation moves in a multiple direction according to 
the movements of many increasingly greater formations, each de 
pending upon the great formation for direction and upon varying 
changes caused by counteracting influences of Suction and Pres 
sure of different proportions." 

Actually some scientists grasped what Lawson was saying about 
Zig-Zag-and-Swirl, and Suction and Pressure, but they hadn t the 
vaguest idea of any significance to be applied to them. Lawson was 
annoyed, promising to devise a "Supreme Mathematics for com 
puting his complicated theses. 

He never did, being almost totally obsessed with Suction and 
Pressure which, he said, governed all that happened in the uni 
verse. When a radio played, he said, one s ear sucked it up, hence 
sound. The eye sucked up light; the lungs oxygen; the mouth food. 
Excretion was a most important element in Lawsonomy, presenting 
pressure in its most efficient form. What was sex of course but the 
attraction of Suction (female) for Pressure (male)? 

The most important suction apparatus of all, as far as humans 

Lawson, Alfred William 225 

were concerned, Lawson said, was the earth itself. He pictured the 
earth as a great sucking machine that absorbed, through a "mouth" 
at the North Pole, substances sent by the sun and gases from mete 
ors. The earth was filled with arteries inside itself, which carried 
life-giving matter to all its parts, while "veins" flushed waste sub 
stances away. Eventually these wastes reached the South Pole 
earth s anus. The wastes were then expelled by pressure. Some 
additional excretion was done away with through "volcanic pores" 
on the earth s surface. 

Born in London in 1869, Lawson grew up in Detroit. Besides 
becoming the greatest scientist of the ages, he was also a profes 
sional baseball player for 19 years (never rising above the minor 
leagues), novelist, nutritionist, economist, and airplane enthusiast. 
His baseball career almost destroyed his life, he later said. He began 
to chase after money and, worse still, he became addicted to to 
bacco, liquor, and meat, three terrible vices according to Lawson. 
He paid the price: his teeth decayed and his health failed. When 
he was 28 he gave up all these vices with a superhuman effort. From 
then until his eighties, he was to assert he was in perfect health. 

Lawson abandoned baseball in 1907, but he had not as yet 
gotten fully into Lawsonomy. He instead moved into aviation, where 
he had considerable impact. In 1908 he started the first popular 
aeronautical magazine, Fly, the premier issue of which showed on 
the cover a young woman soaring through the clouds on the back 
of a giant eagle. Lawson coined the word "aircraft." In 1919 he 
invented and built the world s first passenger airliner. There was 
considerable speculation that the thing would never fly, but Lawson 
himself piloted it round trip between Milwaukee and Washington. 
The following year he enjoyed considerable success with a 26-pas- 
senger version, the first with sleeping berths. Then one of his 
planes crashed, and his company did the same shortly after. 

This sorry development left Lawson with all the time in the 
world to come up with Lawsonomy, and he devoted the rest of his 
life to his science with brief sojourns into nutritionism and eco 
nomics. He advised everyone to follow his example of gobbling 
down a dish of fresh-mown grass with every meal. During the 
Depression he attracted huge crowds with his crackpot Direct Cred 
its Society, which proposed the use of "valueless money" not re 
deemable for anything as well as the cancellation of all interests 
on debts. Only such drastic action, he insisted, could cure the eco 
nomic ills of the world, caused by the "pig-like maniacs known as 

But all that fell to the wayside, compared with Suction and 

226 Voliva, Wilbur Glenn 

Pressure and spreading the word about Lawsonomy. In 1943 Law- 
son formed the Des Moines University of Lawsonomy on the cam 
pus of the long-defunct University of Des Moines. The course of 
study ran 10 years and no other texts were used but the works of 
the master himself. Teachers were called Knowlegians, senior pro 
fessors were labeled Generals, and Lawson was known reverently 
as Supreme Head and First Knowlegian. 

Lawson insisted the school was nonprofit, but in 1952 he was 
hauled before the Senate s Small Business Committee. The mem 
bers asked him to explain the huge profits he had made, which 
were based on the school buying and selling war-surplus machine 
tools "for educational purposes." It soon became clear to Lawson 
that he towered intellectually over all the senators, and that they 
could never hope to understand him. Somehow he got them talking 
about Lawsonomy, mechanics, and deep theories. Nothing much 
came of the Senate expose, but two years later Lawson sold off the 
university property to a land developer. By that time the school had 
361 students, all studying at home. Lawson felt surrounded by 
treacherous enemies, but in the end, he said, he knew his ideas 
would triumph. Lawsonomy would spread, generation by genera 
tion, until a new species would be created a super race who could 
communicate by telepathy (another form of Suction and Pressure) 
and would have great longevity. Lawson died that same year. 

Voliva, Wilbur Glenn (1870-1942) 

The religious zealot and the pseudoscientist have one thing in com 
mon: they are extremely narrow-minded and opinionated. How 
ever, when one combines the traits of both the religious zealot and 
the pseudoscientist in one individual, the result inevitably moves to 
the point of insufferability. 

A strong case can be made that Wilbur Glenn Voliva was the 
most insufferable crank in 20th-century America, a man with noth 
ing short of a paranoid belief in his own greatness. He regarded 

Voliva, Wilbur Glenn 227 

those he disagreed with, or, more precisely, who disagreed with 
him, as "poor, ignorant conceited fools/ and he boasted, "I can 
whip to smithereens any man in the world in a mental battle. I have 
never met any professor or student who knew a millionth as much 
on any subject as I do." 

Voliva s claims to fame, one can see, were obviously manifold. 
He gained notoriety for running Zion City, a peculiar fundamen 
talist community in Illinois and certainly the foremost theocracy in 
America. He was outspoken on matters of science, knowing the 
secrets of how to live 120 years and being the leading "flat earther" 
of the early 20th century. 

One might fault his scientific knowledge, but there was no 
doubt that Voliva understood how to become a millionaire out of 
religion. Ordained a minister in 1889, he had come to Zion City 
around the turn of the century to join the Christian Apostolic 
Church founded by another odd individual, the Reverend John 
Alexander Dowie (q.v.) 9 a Scottish-born faith healer. Dowie, an 
arch-fundamentalist, set himself up as general overseer of his reli 
gious community; he personally owned everything, every house, 
factory, and church building in Zion City. Dowie saw in Voliva all 
the traits he admired in himself, and he made Voliva his chief aide. 

Flat Earth theorist and zealot Wilbut Glenn Voliva challenged the world to prove the 
earth wasn t flat, but none took up the charge. Those who "accept the absurdities of 
modern geography," he said, "are straining at gnats and swallowing camels." (Library of 

228 Voliva, Wilbur Glenn 

By 1905 the ambitious Voliva had forcibly removed an ailing Dowie 
from power, and for the next 30 years he ran Zion City with an iron 
hand. Most of its citizens, members of the sect, worked for Zion 
Industries, which sold the rest of "Godless" America everything 
from fine lace to fig bars. 

Under Voliva, Zion City had stricter blue laws than any city in 
America. Tourists learned to avoid the area, since they faced instant 
arrest for such irreligious activities as smoking cigarettes or whis 
tling on Sunday. Voliva did not exactly make it against the law for 
women to wear high heels, but he did want them shipped off to 
insane asylums. Among the banned in Voliva s fiefdom were tan 
shoes (a particular affront to his sensibilities), pork products, oys 
ters, and doctors. 

A baldish, paunchy, grim-faced man, Voliva seldom laughed 
about anything. "We are fundamentalists," he once said. "We are 
the only true fundamentalists." And Voliva, following Dowie doc 
trine, demanded complete literalness in acceptance of the Bible. 

This of course led him to his firm belief that the earth was flat. 
Good-bye Columbus, Magellan, and all the others with their addled 
brains who did not understand the earth was really just a pancake 
circular, it was true, but not spherical. The center of this pancake 
was the North Pole; the outer circumference was a solid wall of ice, 
which other people mistakenly called the South Pole. It was a good 
thing that that ice wall was there, Voliva explained, because other 
wise all the oceans on the earth would spill over, and nitwitted 
explorers would sail right off and plunge into Hades. Poor Magel 
lan just didn t understand he was simply sailing in a circle along the 
edges of the pancake, Voliva said, not unsympathetically. 

It seemed odd to Voliva how much 20th-century man had re 
gressed from the wisdom of the ancients who knew the stars really 
were much smaller than the earth and rotated around it. Voliva also 
knew better than to believe what the fool scientists said about the 
sun. As he and every one of his 10,000-member sect knew: 

The idea of a sun millions of miles in diameter and 
91,000,000 miles away is silly. The sun is only 32 miles across 
and not more than 3,000 miles from the earth. It stands to 
reason it must be so. God made the sun to light the earth, and 
therefore must have placed it close to the task it was designed 
to do. What would you think of a man who built a house in 
Zion and put the lamp to light it in Kenosha, Wisconsin? 

VoIIva, Wilbur Glenn 229 

Voliva had yet to find an astronomer who knew the first thing 
about the sky, stars, and earth. They simply did not understand 
Voliva s scriptural and scientific tenets. In Leaves of Healing, the 
sect s periodical, Voliva wrote: 

Can anyone who has considered this matter seriously, honestly 
say that he believes the earth is traveling at such an impossible 
speed? If the earth is going so fast, which way is it going? It 
should be easier to travel with it than against it. The wind 
always should blow in the opposite direction to the way the 
earth is traveling. But where is the man who believes that it 
does? Where is the man who believes that he can jump into 
the air, remaining off the earth one second, and come down 
to earth 193.7 miles from where he jumped up? 

Each year Voliva took out an ad in Chicago and Milwaukee 
newspapers offering $5,000 to anyone who could prove to him that 
the world was not flat. Needless to say, no one ever did. Despite his 
scientific ignorance, or perhaps because of it, Voliva remained an 
absolute power in Zion City. But by 1935 other churches began to 
get in, and he started losing some of his influence. Perhaps this was 
because he had proved to be rather off the mark in his predictions 
of the end of the world. He variously set the date of doom in 1923, 
1927, 1930, and 1935, with nothing at all happening. Even his 
death in 1942 must have come as a bit of a shock to him. His special 
diet of buttermilk and Brazil nuts meant that he would live to be 
120, he told his followers, many of whom munched along with him. 

Today Zion City still sports some who remember and honor 
Voliva, but many of the women now wear high heels, lipstick, and 
short skirts. Some even smoke. Yet it may still be regarded as a 
bastion of the forces of Middle America. To Voliva, however, it 
would undoubtedly seem a modern Sodom or Gomorrah. 

230 Stuyvesant, Augustus Van Home 

6tuyveant Augustus Van Home (1870-1953) 


There is something about several million dollars that seems to bring 
out the exuberant in most people, but there is the occasional rich 
recluse who shuts the world out from his or her life. Usually the 
reason for such behavior is deep-seated: a fear of society, a con 
tempt for one s fellow man, a broken or grieving heart. In the case 
of A. Van Home Stuyvesant, the last direct descendent of wooden- 
leg Peter Stuyvesant, the autocratic, strong-willed Dutch governor 
of New Amsterdam, it was said to be simply a matter of shyness. 
He was, at least after his late forties, almost totally withdrawn from 
life. Whenever he met anyone, especially women, he was painfully 
ill at ease, unable to look the person in the eye. 

He cut quite a picture in his sober, faintly pin-striped suit, high 
white collar, bow tie, black oxfords, and sweeping white mustache 
as he strolled, almost always alone, near his mansion at Fifth Avenue 
and East Seventy-ninth Street in New York. The only other place 
he was ever seen during the last few decades of his life was the old 
Stuyvesant family church, St. Mark s-in-the-Bouwerie, at Second 
Avenue and East Tenth Street. He would emerge from a handsome 
Rolls-Royce town car every second or third Sunday and visit the 
family vault. Eventually he would be the eighty-fifth and last inter 
ment there. He would pause to read the old inscription: 

In this vault lies buried 

Petrus Stuyvesant 

Late Captain General and Governor 

in Chief of Amsterdam 
In Nieuw Netherland now called New York 
and the Dutch West Indies. 
Died A.D. 1673 
Age 80 years. 

Here all the Stuyvesants were buried, including most recently 
his two sisters, Katie in 1924 and Annie in 1938. After paying silent 
homage, Van Home strolled about the church graveyard for a few 
hours, studying the various markers. Then he returned to be ush 
ered into the Rolls by a chauffeur dressed in plum-colored livery. 

Stuyvesant, Augustus Van Home 23 1 

Either shyness or contempt spurred millionaire recluse A. Van Home Stuyvesant to keep 
society only with his family. He survived his sister Anne (pictured with him) and 
ventured from his Fifth Avenue mansion only to visit the family vault (Wide World) 

Driven back uptown, he would be seen on a regular basis the rest 
of the time only by his servants. Possibly his only other social con 
tact, besides sitting silently at services in either St. Mark s or St. 
James churches, was in 1941 when Parks Commissioner Robert 
Moses induced him to emerge into public long enough to unveil a 
statue of Peter Stuyvesant in Stuyvesant Square Park. Van Horne 
had no occupation, but he dabbled in real estate anonymously 
through brokers and lawyers, building up his fortune. 

Both Van Home s sisters were more outgoing than their 
brother, but they lived with him throughout their lives, never mar 
rying or even bringing in friends out of respect for his privacy. 
Both left their shares of the Stuyvesant fortune to him. All three 
had agreed that, with his passing, all their money would go to 

232 Poillonu Charlotte and Katherine 

St. Luke s Hospital for the establishment of a Van Horne Stuyve 
sant Memorial Hospital for the poor living on former Stuyvesant 

The mystery of Van Home s withdrawal from social contact 
quite possibly is as tantalizing as that of the newspaper mogul s 
dying word, "Rosebud," in the film classic Citizen Kane. Was Van 
Home s retirement and shyness simply an attempt to recapture a 
lost innocence, something a new world and a changing New York 
City would not permit? His withdrawal began with a "new" menace 
to society after the war the rise of the dreaded Bolshies and the 
attendant Red scares. Shortly before the millionaire s death, a but 
ler may well have inadvertently revealed to a journalist the secret to 
his master s reclusive existence. "All Mr. Stuyvesant does," he re 
vealed, "is sit in front of a picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt and 

By that time, "That Man in the White House" had been dead 
some seven years. Still Van Horne had not forgiven FDR. He re 
mained the symbol of the forces, one psychiatrist suggested, that 
were trying to strip the last of the Stuyvesants of his only means of 
protection in a hostile world his fortune. 

Doilloa Charlotte (1870-f) 
and Katherine (1872-?) 


Today perhaps the Poillon sisters, Charlotte and Katherine, would 
not be considered sex symbols by anyone except fans of lady wres 
tlers. They w ? ere large, imposing, hard-bellied women scaling in at 
210 and 200 pounds respectively, and indeed Charlotte had once 
gone a bizarre four rounds with heavyweight champion Gentleman 
Jim Corbett. But around the turn of the century there was some 
thing to the Poillon charm. 

It was an era not completely taken with the wispy beauty of the 
Floradora and Gibson Girls, and the pages of such arbiters of fe 
male pulchritude as the Police Gazette offered pinups of girls, includ 
ing the Poillon sisters themselves, who might now be regarded 

Mllon, Charlotte and Katherine 233 

as cow-eyed, heavy of jowl, and thick of limb; but at the time 
they represented beauty at once stimulating, daring 5 exciting, and 
spicy. The Poillon sisters were all that and, some would say, rather 
punchy besides. 

The yellow press, from Pulitzer and Hearst to Richard Fox s 
Police Gazette, reveled in reporting the romantic and often bizarre 
capers of the maidens Poillon. Both had escaped stormy marriages, 
probably to the delight of their spouses, to become the titantic 
sweethearts of Broadway and they were quite prepared to beat 
the hell out of a gent who thought otherwise. 

Their idea of being star-eyed romantics was to befriend rich, 
elderly men and talk them into engagements. When they turned to 
crude behavior and the men subsequently tried to break off with 
them, they sued for breach of promise. In 1903 they sued wealthy 
William G. Brokaw for $250,000, and they got $17,500 when they 
promised not to drag him through the courts. This was a rather 
hefty settlement in a time when a dollar was worth many times what 
it is today. 

The sisters haunted the better hotels and restaurants stalking 
lovers and victims. Their behavior was enough to provoke protests 
from other tenderhearted guests. In 1907, when a hotel manager 
reprimanded them for flirting with married guests in company of 
their wives, the sisters hurled him down a flight of stairs. They did 
the same to another hotel manager, who they felt had overcharged 
them. This put them in the prisoners dock and in the newspapers. 

There were many such incidents. In 1909 they were evicted 
from New York s Hotel Willard for another breach of etiquette. It 
took three bellhops and three other men to wrestle Charlotte out 
to the street but not before she decked all three bellhops. Char 
lotte on another occasion was similarly evicted from Charley Rec 
tor s, a posh Broadway restaurant, in 1912. She sued for $25,000 
but lost. Rector s rather frightened maitre d testified that the lum 
bering lass had entered the establishment dressed as a man and 
had not been interfered with until she slammed two waiters to the 
floor as she bulled her way to a table reserved for other diners. 
When Charlotte left the court, she added her booming voice to the 
feminist cries by observing, "It s a d man s world!" The censor 
ship belongs to the press of the day. 

As late as the 1920s, when the sisters were in their hefty fifties, 
they continued to make love-nest headlines. In some cases the men 
claimed they had been too frightened to reject the sisters atten 
tions. In 1923 an elderly businessman, for a time smitten with both 
sisters, charged them with fraud after they trimmed him of several 

234 Smith, William 

thousand dollars. The Poillons refused to enter a plea. They sat in 
court cutting up paper dolls and making anti Semitic remarks 
about their Jewish lawyer. When the judge banged his gavel, Char 
lotte responded by battering the defense table with her fist. Re 
markably, the sisters* lawyer still won the case. 

By the late 1920s, with both sisters in their late fifties, the 
sisters dropped out of the romantic news. There were reports that 
they had each married and settled down, or that they had jointly 
trotted off to a mental institution. In any event they vanished from 
view except for a brief return to the limelight by Charlotte in 1929. 

A New York City department store had set up a promotion 
exhibit on the street with a prizefighter working out with a punch 
ing bag. Suddenly Charlotte exploded out of the crowd, proclaim 
ing the boxer to be "a bum" and shoving him aside. She took over 
lambasting the punching bag and was hired to replace the male 
pugilist. Charlotte kept punching for about three weeks, and then 
she disappeared again. 

A romantic era had ended. 



A young black dandy, thief, and gambler, William Smith provided 
Chicago politics with one of its lighter moments. In the 1890s, he 
fully expected to become the city s first black mayor and chief pimp 
at one and the same time. Hattie Briggs, one of the most notorious, 
hard-driving, and sometimes softheaded black madams of the Little 
Cheyenne vice area, became infatuated with Smith and showered 
him with money. She set him up in a fancy saloon and announced 
she had great plans for her "loving man/* 

Smith promenaded around Little Cheyenne in lavender pants, 
white vest, yellow shirts, bright blue coat, patent-leather shoes with 
white spats, all topped off with a silk hat. His shirtfront gleamed 
with diamond studs, his fingers with diamond rings, and he carried 
a gold toothpick behind his ear all gifts from Madam Briggs. 

Smith, William 235 

Smith also carried four different colored pencils in his vest pocket 
and kept a liveried messenger boy in ready attendance to deliver 
his important epistles. Sometimes he scribbled a note to Hattie de 
manding a thousand or so for pocket money, which resulted in 
immediate compliance. 

Smith s problems arose because he also authored a number of 
letters to the mayor and the chief of police, some of which actually 
got to City Hall, where they caused a mixture of bafflement, won 
der, and outrage. Smith would note that the payment of protection 
money required a more immediate response to the desires and 
needs of the saloon keepers and brothel owners of the city. 

Hattie Briggs was not unamused by her precious pet s actions 
and urged him on, catering to his every whim. Hattie announced 
to her cohorts of Little Cheyenne that she was making so much 
money, she was going to buy up all the saloons and brothels in 
Chicago, and have Smith elected mayor. This prophecy caused 
Smith to dance wildly about in anticipation. He announced that his 
first official act would be to abolish the police force, replacing it 
with bouncers from all the leading brothels. 

Such announcements by Smith made him a delight in most vice 
circles, but to the police he was considered an affront. They re 
sented his grandiose claims of political influence and saw nothing 
remotely entertaining about efforts to separate them from their 
graft. As a result in April 1892, the annoyed police descended on 
Smith s lavish dive and tore it apart, damaging Smith as well in the 

For his troubles Smith was fined a hundred dollars for disturb 
ing the peace, and in time his saloon license was revoked. There 
after they arrested Smith three or four times a day, and when Hattie 
Briggs protested, they gave her the same treatment, no longer con 
cerned with the years of protection money coming from her. 

Soon she and Smith were being picked up 10 or even 20 times 
in a 24-hour period. Eventually the harassment became so unbear 
able that Hattie packed up her girls, her bedding, and other fur 
nishings, and relocated across the state line. 

William Smith came along but, despite Hattie s consolations, 
pouted about having lost the mayoralty after her lavish promises. 
Not even several new wardrobes pacified him; according to one 
version circulating in Chicago vice circles, William absconded with 
two of Hattie s most prized "boarders," who promised to "do right" 
by him ever after. Hattie Briggs was said to have been heartbroken 
about her lost lover who was never heard of again. 

236 Wilks, Sylvia Green 

Wife Sylvia Green (1871-1951) 


It is to the eternal credit, or at least distinction, of Hetty Green 
(q.v.) that unlike so many other eccentrics she begat two others. Her 
children, Ned and Sylvia, went on to their own dubious fame of 
being in the same strange league with their mother. 

Son Ned turned out to be the complete spendthrift, running 
through his share of Mama Green s fortune at the rate of $3 million 
a year. A wag once said Ned simply didn t like money. Sylvia Green 
Wilks did like money. In fact she adored it, and indeed she held on 
to most of what she got and became one of the world s richest 
women, being worth more than the Queen of England or the com 
bined wealth of two of America s most famed heiresses, Doris Duke 
and Barbara Hutton. On a comparative basis, she was worth more 
in ready cash than even the Aga Khan. She had so much cash that 
she kept $31 million in a non-interest-bearing checking account in 
New York s Chase National, a fact that kept the bank s executives in 
a state of constant anxiety for fear that one day she would march in 
and demand instant payment. 

As much as Sylvia liked money, she didn t like people. She may 
not have been a total recluse indeed she could show up for spir 
ited court battles when a fortune was involved but she could dis 
appear from sight for months or years at a time, totally uncaring 
about the society of her fellow beings. 

Part of Sylvia s behavior shy, untrusting, ungraceful was 
traceable to the teachings of Mama Hetty, who lectured her on the 
evils of fortune hunters, the contesting of wills, and the worthless- 
ness of lawyers. For fear of fortune hunters, Hetty made her son 
promise never to marry while she was alive. But she withdrew that 
stipulation as it concerned Sylvia when the daughter was 38, en 
abling her to marry 63-year-old Matthew Astor Wilks in 1909. Wilks 
was, after all, the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor and a million 
aire in his own right. Of course Wilks did have to sign a prenuptial 
agreement giving up any claim to Sylvia s money. The reverse was 
not true. When Wilkes died in 1926, Sylvia picked up a considerable 
additional fortune from his estate, including the $5,000 Hetty had 
willed her son-in-law in order to reward his good grace in signing 
the original marriage contract. 
What few friends Sylvia had agreed she had become almost as 

WIfks, Sylvia Green 237 

penny-pinching as her mother. Having been constantly bombarded 
with lectures on the joys of frugality for years in a dismal Hoboken 
flat where she waited on miserly Hetty, sewing, cooking, and doing 
the dishes, this is not surprising. 

Sylvia did hire a vast number of servants, clearly a reaction to 
her years of manual serfdom, but otherwise she kept a tight rein on 
expenditures. An enquiring New York reporter once estimated her 
fortune thusly: $30 to $45 million in New York City mortgages; 
$40 to $60 million in nontaxable municipal bonds and industrial 
securities; $10 million in farming and oil tracts; and $10 million 
in real estate. 

Neighbors in Massachusetts around the various Green Wilks 
mansions had plenty of tales to tell about Sylvia s bizarre behavior. 
Sometimes, despite her reclusive character, she felt impelled to visit 
neighbors, but she walked about in such slovenly dress that on 
several occasions the woman of the house thought she was a beggar 
or peddler and did not open the door. At other times she would 
call on a neighbor for a cup of coffee, wearing a ravishing fur coat 
over a common housedress. 

Sylvia was capable of breaking with her mother s firm rule 
against charity. She once donated the site of her father s old home 
in Bellows Falls, Vermont, to the community for a park as a memo 
rial. She had the mansion bulldozed, which upset many in Bellows 
Falls since it had been a local landmark, having been built in 1804. 
One citizen asked Sylvia why she had not given the home to the 
town to be used as a community house. She responded sourly, "Why 
don t you give yours?" It was a long time after that before Bellows 
Falls was found deserving of any further charity from Sylvia. 

If Sylvia s good deeds toward humans were limited, she set a 
different value on animal life. She kept a number of collies and 
doted over them, much as Hetty Green did for a pet terrier. Sylvia s 
main affection however was for birds. If a tree on any of her estates 
had to be chopped down or was struck by lightning, Sylvia had a 
birdhouse erected on the stump so that any birds living there would 
not be dispossessed. She had a chart picturing various species of 
birds hanging in her living room and could readily identify any bird 
flying over the estate. 

Probably the most vivid picture New Englanders had of Sylvia 
was the black-clad recluse showing up in New Bedford with four 
armored cars some time after her brother died in 1936. As the 
four-car convoy sped through New Bedford, the town s entire po 
lice force joined in escort. At South Dartmouth more police joined 
the convoy as it continued on to Round Hill, where Ned Green had 

238 Schmidt, William Henry 

lived. It took four hours to load up the cars at the mansion, with a 
platoon of gun-drawn guards discouraging the curious from com 
ing near. Then the convoy sped off. 

Sylvia had picked up her inheritance of Ned s $20 million gem 
collection. She had little interest in diamonds and virtually all of the 
collection was sold off, including Ned s prized diamond-studded 
chastity belts. What Sylvia did with her brother s famed library of 
erotica was not determined. One theory was that she personally 
burned it. 

If Sylvia could shake off the influence of her late brother, she 
could not as readily dismiss the ghost of the long-gone Hetty Green. 
Hetty might well have kicked up in her grave at the thought of her 
daughter spending $11,000 a year for a penthouse apartment on 
New York s Fifth Avenue, but she would have been partially pacified 
by the fact that Sylvia hauled with her much of Hetty s old and 
dilapidated furniture. In 1940 Sylvia traded in her penthouse for 
two lower-floor apartments one on the third floor where she lived 
and one on the fourth for the old Green furniture. 

Sylvia also occupied the same office space at 1 1 1 Broadway that 
Hetty had used for years, and she dabbled there in various types of 
financial paper. She had an office manager who kept her out of 
direct contact with bond salesmen and with charity solicitors of all 
sort. Hetty had never given a dime to charity, and Sylvia in her later 
years pretty much maintained that policy. When Sylvia died on 
February 5, 1951, she had no really close relatives. Her estate after 
taxes came to more than $90 million. It went to 63 charities. Her 
mother might not have even guessed there were so many. 

(Schmidt William Henry "5urro" (1871-1954) 


Stricken with tuberculosis at the age of 24, William Henry Schmidt 
went west in 1895, to improve his health and, he hoped, to strike 
gold. He was successful in both goals. Although he remained frail 
of body, the clear air of California s El Paso Mountains did wonders 

Schmidt, William Henry 239 

for his breathing. And after a decade of prospecting he found a 
vein in Copper Mountain, near Randsburg. 

The trouble was, Schmidt decided, there was no sense in work 
ing the claim until he could tunnel through to the far side of the 
mountain, where he could pick up a road to the smelter. With the 
aid of two burros, Jack and Jenny, he started his gigantic undertak 
ing of cutting through a half mile of solid granite in 1906, using 
only hand tools and dynamite when he could afford to buy some. 
"Burro" Schmidt, as he became known, labored around the clock, 
seven days a week, sleeping only whenever fatigue overtook him. 

His project passed from necessity to obsession; in time, 
progress came to the mountains after all, and road and rail links 
connected the two sides of the mountain, making Burro s efforts 
needless. But Burro wasn t about to quit; his fight was with "that 
damn rock," and he intended to win it. Foot after foot, year after 
year, Schmidt burrowed onward, bringing out 2,600 cubic yards of 
rock. Well-wishers, many of whom admittedly thought him crazy, 
showed up from time to time with gifts of food and supplies. Col 
lege pranksters once stole all his tools, but a Good Samaritan 
bought replacements. In 1938, 32 years after he had started dig 
ging, he hit daylight: he had tunneled through 1,872 feet of rock. 

The press, the curious, and even the professional geologists 
came to marvel at Schmidt s grand obsession. The one-track- 
minded prospector had beaten his mountain, and he was lionized 
by Robert "Believe It or Not" Ripley. The fame came in handy, 
considering the fact that his vein turned out to be of limited value. 
However, encouraged by a business promoter, Schmidt turned his 
tunnel into a tourist attraction and lived quite well on the revenues 
until his death in 1954. Nobody thought him crazy anymore, a little 
eccentric maybe, but not crazy. 

240 Fort, Charles 

Fort Charles (1874-1932) 


It has never been easy to chronicle the career of Charles Fort, and 
to this date there is no adequate biography of him, only the weak 
efforts of profilers who generally present him as an enigma. Was 
he a hopeless crank, a tantalizer of the human mind? Or was he a 
practical joker carrying off what writer Ben Hecht called a "Gar 
gantuan jest," never believing one iota of his own wildly insane 

He wrote four books that espoused his theories of "Fortean 
Science." Theodore Dreiser, a lifelong friend who considered Fort 
a true genius, found them "full of marvelous data of the most 
mysterious and provoking character, all of which has been deliber 
ately ignored by the scientists." Fort in fact presented the kinds of 
theories loonies embrace. No doubt he would have reveled in the 
modern U.F.O. craze had he lived. 

Fort, a large, retiring, bearlike man with thick glasses and a 
walrus mustache, spent the last 26 years of his life in the British 
Museum and in public libraries, collecting notes and clippings that 
filled cubbyholes and shoeboxes in his apartment in the Bronx. 
These told stories of happenings that science often could not ex 
plain, such as black rains; ice falling from the sky; the appearance 
of Chinese seals in Ireland; eerie lights in the heavens; lost planets; 
frogs, crabs, and blood falling from the sky; unexplained disap 
pearances; people bursting spontaneously into flames; all polter 
geist tales. 

After ridiculing the explanations of organized science, he came 
up with his own. Fort had no doubt that there was a universe par 
allel to the one we see, and he suggested that the earth may well 
only rotate once a year. Was this so amazing, he wondered, since it 
was obvious to all that God "drools comets and gibbers earth 
quakes." The stars, he suggested, were not actually bodies in space 
but mere apertures in a gelatinous shell that surrounded earth, and 
that what we saw was light shining through those holes. He warned 
aviators to mind their flying, else they ran the dire risk of becoming 
"stuck like currants" in it. 

Above us was a sort of super sargasso sea, in which had been 
collected rubbish blown from earth and other planets over the eons. 

Fort, Charles 241 

He argued that also in the sky were fields of ice as big as those 
floating in the Arctic Ocean, and thus we have winter. Then too 
there were huge fields of water and vast expanses of land covered 
with caterpillars drifting above us. How else explain the many in 
stances of caterpillars raining down on earth, which his research 
had discovered? 

Fort would have nothing to do with such conventional expla 
nations of the well-authenticated instances of red rains as that they 
were the result of reddish-colored dust becoming mixed with water. 
Why not one of the following: 

Rivers of blood that vein albuminous seas, or an egg-like 
composition in the incubation of which the earth is a local 
center of development that there are super-arteries of blood 
in Genesis-trine; that sunsets are consciousness of them: that 
they flush the skies with northern lights sometimes. . . . 

Or that our whole solar system is a living thing: that show 
ers of blood upon this earth are its internal hemorrhages 

Or vast living things in the sky, as there are vast living 
things in the oceans 

Or some one especial thing: an especial time: an especial 
place. A thing the size of the Brooklyn Bridge. It s alive in 
outer space something the size of Central Park kills it 

It drips. 

Fort was amused that science had no explanation for reports of 
persons standing in clear view in the middle of the road one mo 
ment and vanishing forever from human view the next. He noted 
that Ambrose Bierce disappeared in Mexico at the very same time 
that Ambrose Small did in Canada. Was it not logical that someone 
up there was collecting Ambroses? 

When Dorothy Arnold, a celebrated society heiress, disap 
peared in 1910 in New York City, the police staged an intensive 
hunt but never found a trace of her. How could they, Fort asked; 
they had never checked up on the significant fact that a white 
swan appeared on a pond in Central Park at approximately the 
spot she would have reached had she gone in that direction. It 
was elementary. 

Fort grew up in Albany, New York, in an unhappy family in 
which his mother died when he was four. He was often mistreated 
by his father, and he left home in his teens. A poor student, he 
nonetheless made an interesting writer. At 17 he was selling fea- 

242 Fort, Charles 

tures to a New York syndicate and the Brooklyn World. Later he had 
a job on a Queens newspaper until it folded. Then he traveled 
around the world on the cheap, almost ending up on a chain gang 
in the American South and contracting malaria in Africa. When he 
returned to the United States he married Anna Filing, an English 

They lived in abject poverty at first, constantly parading in and 
out of pawnshops, even breaking up chairs to use for firewood. Fort 
worked at odd jobs and finally started selling stories to newspapers 
and magazines. Dreiser published some in his Smith s Magazine, and 
he became Fort s lifelong admirer. 

In 1905, Fort began collecting his notes on strange happen 
ings. Shortly thereafter he inherited a small fortune that left him 
free to pursue his chosen task full time. He and his wife shutded 
between New York and London so that Fort could continue his 
research at the British Museum. The first book on his research, The 
Book of the Damned, appeared in 1919. Dreiser had taken the manu 
script to his own publisher, Horace Liveright, and announced it 
would have to be brought out or he (Dreiser) would take his own 
writings elsewhere. 

Over the next 13 years, three more Fort books appeared New 
Lands, Lof, and Wild Talents. All were jammed with showers of peri 
winkles and frogs, bleeding statues and paintings, poison fogs, 
showers of beeflike substances, as well as with deluges of stone 
wedges and even cannonballs. In a foreward to New Lands, Booth 
Tarkington was thrilled by the author s power to describe "cyclonic 
activity and dimensions." 

It must not be inferred that the public snapped up Fort s work. 
The books sold in underwhelming numbers. However, many liter 
ary figures embraced Fort s works, including besides Tarkington 
and Dreiser novelist Tiffany Thayer (Fort s closest friend and, ex 
cept for Dreiser, perhaps his only one), Ben Hecht, Jon Cowper 
Powys, Edgar Lee Masters, Burton Rascoe, and Alexander Wooll- 
cott. In 1931 these writers and other interested parties formed the 
Fortean Society: to expound Fort s theories to confound and bait 
the scientific world. Fort himself refused to join, since he was a 
believer in absolutely nothing, not even his own absolute truths. 

He just spent his every moment collecting more facts. Even 
after he died in 1932, Fort continued to spark vociferous debate 
over what he stood for. Thayer, who in 1937 started publishing the 
Fortean Society Magazine, which later became Doubt, insisted "Charles 
Fort was in no sense a crank. He believed not one hair s breadth of 
any of his amazing hypotheses as any sensible adult must see 

Fort, Charles 243 

from the text itself. He put his theses forward jocularly as Jehovah 
must have made the platypus and, perhaps, man. . . ." 

One must wonder then, as Martin Gardner did in Fads & Fal 
lacies in the Name of Science, a classic study of pseudoscientism, how 
Fort could spend a quarter century "on such minor tasks* as he 
once described it of going through twenty-five years of the London 
Daily Mail? The answer is that more meaning than meets the eye 
lurks behind Fort s madness." 

Gardner saw Fort as a Hegelian. He was apparently much im 
pressed by Fort s observation that "I think we re all bugs and mice 
and are only different expressions of an all-inclusive cheese." 
Clearly though, Gardner was not comfortable dealing with Fort, 
starting off a chapter on him with a certain resignation: "Sooner or 
later in this book, we shall have to come to terms with Charles Fort." 

Others have tried to as well. Ben Hecht, reviewing Fort s first 
book, declared, "Charles Fort made a terrible onslaught upon the 
accumulated lunacy of fifty centuries He has delighted me be 
yond all men who have written books in this world He has shot 

the scientific basis of modern wisdom full of large, ugly holes." 

Hecht of course meant little of that. Woollcott held Fort "to 
have been one of the most magnificent mentalities of modern 
time." Was Woollcott being any more straightforward than H. L. 
Mencken, who wrote the United Press following Fort s death, "Your 
story describing the funeral of Charles Fort lists me as one of his 
customers. This was a libel of a virulence sufficient to shock human 
ity. As a matter of fact, I looked upon Fort as a quack of the most 
obvious sort and often said so in print. As a Christian I forgive the 
man who wrote the story and the news editor who passed it. But 
both will suffer in hell." 

Despite such disputes Forteans still thrive today. The Fortean 
Times, published in London, is filled with such stirring items as "The 
Nonstop Toilet of Leek Street," which details the sad fate of Delores 
Goodyear and family. They have been flushed out of the home in 
Leek St., Leeds, England. Ever since the family moved into their 
council maisonette three years ago, the toilet has driven them clean 
round the bend by repeated flushing itself and flood their home. 
The family have been rehoused while workmen attempt to solve 
the riddle. Sentient malice is hinted at in hushed tones: Tor no 
reason at all it would start flushing, and not know when to stop. It 
has ruined carpets, lifted tiles, and made the house very damp. It s 
been a nightmare. All the obvious causes seem to have been ex 
plored, and so the plumbers will resort to their more drastic 
arts If thy throne offends thee, pluck it out. " 

244 Gillette, George Francis 

Forteans are amused at these foolish plumbers for failing to 
see "a connection with pohergeistery." And still the enigma of Fort 
and Forteanism remains. 

Gillette, George Francis (1875-?) 

Probably the gravest professional insult pseudoscientist George 
Francis Gillette ever suffered, at least from his viewpoint, was the 
supreme slight of being held inferior to Albert Einstein. All Ein 
stein had was the theory of relativity while Gillette had his "spiral 
universe." The short shrift his theories got from the scientific world 
made Gillette livid with rage, and his adult life was spent on an 
"Einstein Must Go" campaign. 

"Einstein a scientist?" Gillette wrote in one of his privately 
printed books. "It were difficult to imagine anyone more contrary 
and opposite to what a scientist should be. ... As a rational physi 
cist, Einstein is a fair violinist." And as for that bit of nonsense 
called relativity, that was "voodoo nonsense," "utterly mad," "cross 
eyed physic," "the nadir of pure drivel," and a "moronic brain child 
of mental colic," to Gillette. 

The personal history of Gillette is rather hazy beyond the bare 
fact that he attended the University of Michigan and held engineer 
ing positions with several firms. More importantly he wrote four 
books. In them, Gillette informed his readers that Newton was his 
kind of scientist, although he modestly had to observe that his spiral 
universe theory was an improvement on Newton; in fact it "out- 
Newton s Newton." 

Since nobody else has ever quite grasped the full meaning and 
import of the spiral universe although the Forteans (q.v. Charles 
Fort) sort of embraced it it probably can best be done justice in 
Gillette s own words. 

The "unimote" is the indivisible unit in the theory, and the 
universe is a "supraunimote"; the cosmos is the "maximote." There 

Gillette, George Francis 245 

is also the "ultimote," which Gillette informs us is the "Nth sub- 
universe plane." 

He explains, "Each ultimote is simultaneously an integral part of 
zillions of otherplane units and only thus is its infinite allplane veloc 
ity and energy subdivided into zillions of finite planar quotas of 
velocity and energy." 

Gillette s universe would be a dull place without what he calls 
"lumps, jumps, and bumps." 

"All motions ever strive to go straight until they bump. Noth 
ing else ever happens at all. That s all there is, he writes: "In all the 
cosmos there is naught but straight-flying bumping, caroming and 
again straight flying. Phenomena are but lumps, jumps, and bumps. 
A mass unit s career is but lumping, jumping, bumping, rejumping, 
rebumping, and finally unlumping." 

All these findings led Gillette to his "backscrewing theory of 
gravity." Again only the master himself can do the theory justice. 
Some of his observations are: 

"Gravitation is the kicked back nut of the screwing bolt of 

"Gravitation and backscrewing are synonymous. All mass units 
are solar systems ... of interscrewed subunits." 

"Gravitation is naught but that reaction in the form of sub- 
planar solar systems screwing through higher plane masses." 

Faced with such obvious facts, Gillette was incensed that scien 
tists ignored him. He became most agitated that he had to print his 
theories at his own expense. But he added, "The truth seeker is 
never a fanatic. He has no fantasies to be fanatic about. So he is 
serene, and humane, civilized." So, in a civilized manner, he said 
of the scientific world: "Pooh! ... It will soon attain oblivion by its 
own efforts." 

Probably Gillette s Rational, Non-Mystical Cosmos can be called 
the standard work on his theories, but at 384 pages, it can get to be 
rather tough going. Most neophyte anti-Einsteinians are best di 
rected to his Orthodox Oxen (1929). Some library copies are graced 
with hand-colored pictures done by the author, but they are consid 
ered such classics that most have been ripped off. 

Writing in 1929, Gillette predicted that "the relativity theory 
will be considered a joke" by 1940. "Einstein," he added, "is already 
dead and buried, alongside Andersen, Grimm, and the Mad 

Something went wrong. By 1940, Einstein was still thriving, 
and the world lost sight of George Francis Gillette. 

246 Juettner, Emerich 

Juettner; Emerich (1875-?) 

MR. 880 

He was America s most successful counterfeiter, eluding the law 
longer than any other "maker of the queer" in history. If that con 
notes a criminal proficiency, the accolade is unearned. For he was 
not only the most successful but probably the worst counterfeiter 
ever to match wits with the U.S. Secret Service. 

His name was Emerich Juettner, and he lived under the Amer 
icanized name of Edward Mueller on West Ninety-Sixth Street in 
New York City; until his sixties he had never committed a crime of 
any sort. He was a short, 120-pound, blue-eyed recluse known to 
his West Side neighbors as a collector of reclaimable junk. It was 
during the Great Depression, and as he strolled the streets with a 
pushcart, poking through garbage cans, he was looked upon, with 
his shock of white hair, skimpy mustache, and toothless grin, as no 
more than a slightly odd exponent of free enterprise. 

Some of the junk he sold to dealers. Those that had once been 
toys or dolls, he put outside his apartment door, to be appropriated 
by neighbors with children. It was a laudable effort, considering the 
fact that Mueller-Juettner literally did not often have enough to 
feed himself and his dog. Whatever he was, he was not considered 
to be a scourge upon the city. 

In 1938 a counterfeit bill turned up at a cigar store on Broad 
way near 102nd Street. The odd thing about it was that it was of 
the $1 variety, a bill which at that time was never counterfeited. A 
new Secret Service file was started for the miscreant, numbered 
case 880. It was a case that was to perplex seasoned veterans of the 
agency. The bill was of incredibly poor workmanship the numbers 
were extremely fuzzy, and the portrait of George Washington was 
ludicrously inept. In addition, the paper was nothing more than 
ordinary bond, purchasable in any five-and-ten or stationery store. 

In the ensuing weeks more of the bogus bills turned up, mostly 
in Manhattan, especially on the upper West Side, but some were 
found as far away as New Jersey. Those that could be traced were 
discovered to have been passed to small merchants, subway clerks, 
newspaper vendors, bartenders, and the like all persons who han 
dled hundreds of bills a day and, if they were ever concerned about 
counterfeits, would certainly only have paid close attention to fives 
and up. 

Juettner, Emerich 247 

By the end of 1939, the Secret Service had accumulated some 
600 counterfeit $1 bills, some even more clumsy now than the first 
ones. Apparently the counterfeiter had tried to improve his work 
and ended up this time rather charmingly misspelling "Washing 
ton" as "Wahihngton." What was most exasperating to government 
investigators was the fact that the victims went right on blithely 
accepting these patent phonies. 

During World War II the stream of bogus ones kept flowing, 
despite a Treasury Department publicity campaign in New York. 
More than likely, many persons finding themselves in possession of 
such incompetent counterfeits decided to keep them as mementos 
rather than reporting them to the government and seeing them 
appropriated. By 1947 the government had in its possession more 
than 5,000 less-than-minor masterpieces by Mr. 880. as agents took 
to calling their unknown nemesis. 

In January 1948 the Secret Service finally got their man, al 
though it was in rather bizarre fashion. A few weeks before the 
previous Christmas, the two-room flat of old Mueller Juettner had 
caught fire. His dog had awakened him to the peril, and the old 
man saved himself although his old dog died. 

Firemen responding to the alarm extinguished the blaze, heav 
ing much of the old man s junk into an alley, where it was covered 
over by a fast-developing snowstorm. The heartbroken old man 
went off to spend Christmas with a daughter in Queens. 

On January 13 two youths started poking through the fire- 
damaged junk in the alley, which was being partially uncovered by 
warming weather. They were highly encouraged when they came 
across two $1 bills. They dug on energetically until they discovered 
a set of printing plates. The youngsters took their find to the West 
100th Street station house, where detectives immediately identified 
the bills as counterfeit. The Secret Service was summoned, and 
soon they found some parts of a small handpress as well as negatives 
for $10 and $20 bills. These negatives had never been used but the 
agents were more gleeful about their find of the $1 plates. They 
had Mr. 880, and Mueller-Juettner was apprehended a few days 
later when he returned to his flat. 

Juettner was identified as a native of Austria, where he had 
learned the rudiments of engraving. After coming to America as a 
teenager he worked at many jobs, including that of a gilder of 
picture frames. He also worked as a janitor to provide for his wife 
and two children. When his wife died, he moved to upper Manhat 
tan and pretended to his grown daughter and son that he was well 
able to provide for himself. Actually, he had not been able to even 

248 Gates, Charles G. 

scrape by as a purveyor of junk, and so he took to his part-time 
career as an inept counterfeiter. 

He knocked out a few ones on his handpress in his kitchen 
whenever he needed food for himself and his dog, or help paying 
his $25-a-month rent. Outside of that, he passed no bad bills, not 
wishing to cause anyone more financial harm than that. He made it 
a point never to stick a victim more than once for this same concern. 
As a Secret Service agent explained, Mr. 880 had been difficult to 
catch because he suffered from a "complete lack of greed." 

The New Yorker magazine profiled Juettner in an engaging story 
by St. Clair McKelway, and Hollywood made a movie, with Edmund 
Gwenn playing the title role of the eccentric Mr, 880, 

Meanwhile the real Mr. 880 eventually wound up in court, 
facing his first offense as a master criminal. Eventually, he was 
sentenced to nine months in prison, but the judge was clearly more 
awed than angered by his activities. When Emerich Juettner com* 
pleted his term, he faded into the obscurity to which his criminal 
talents so clearly entitled him. 

Gates, Charles G. (1876-1913) 


Unlike some children of eccentrics, Charlie Gates was, to use with 
justification the tired phrase, a chip off the old block. He was in 
many ways a carbon copy of his father, Bet-A-Million Gates (q.v.). 
He plunged heavily into the stock market, took crazy chances at the 
gaming tables, and he spent and tipped lavishly his tips, the New 
York Times reported, ran to $1 million a year. It may also be said he 
inherited still less admirable characteristics of his father, namely 
drinking, taking up elbow-bending in heroic volume while still in 
his teens. 

One trait he didn t pick up from his father however was busi 
ness acumen. He probably lost double what he ever managed to win 
in the market and at gambling. But the Gates fortune was so great, 
it hardly mattered. So disinterested did he become in business that 

Gates, Charles G. 249 

firms on whose boards of directors he served had to retain detec 
tives to find him when his presence was legally required. The de 
tectives may be accused of overcharging for their services, since 
ail they usually had to do to find him was check out the nearest 
drinking resort. 

Charlie Gates lived only for gambling, drinking, and traveling 
at great speeds in his private train, which roared around the coun 
try at his instant whim. A friend once asked him why he spent so 
many thousands of dollars just to get his train to New York City 
from 2,000 miles away in 20 minutes less time than it would have 
taken him at normal speeds. "Speed is life," Charlie responded. 

In 1911, he had his train cover the 3,000 miles from Yuma, 
Arizona, to New York City in 74 hours and 19 minutes, including 
stops; this pace was unheard-of for the era, working out to better 
than 40 miles per hour. It might be said to be due to an affair of 
the heart; at least it was an effort to dissuade his wife from filing 
for divorce. 

In failing health in 1913, having crowded a wealth of charming 
if debilitating experiences in to his 37 years, Gates went to Cody, 
Wyoming, in the hopes of reviving his weakened body. He spent 
five weeks hunting bear and the like, and seemed to be improving. 
On the last day of his stay Gates started dishing out money. He 
spent $7,000 for fur coats for friends, and he tipped his chauffeur 
$1,000. He peeled off $10,000 in cash for his hunting guide. "Hell," 
Gates said. "I can t live forever and I can t take it with me." 

That night he welcomed Buffalo Bill Cody to a rendezvous in 
his private Pullman car dubbed Bright Eyes. One single evening of 
boozing with that well-alcoholed old reprobate simply killed off 
Charlie. He died aboard Bright Eyes the following morning, as his 
valet was fixing him a restorative. 

"I didn t know he was a tenderfoot," Buffalo Bill is said to have 
declared upon being informed of the younger man s demise. "I 
never should have ordered those last six bottles." 

Gates had spent at least $70,000 on his brief sojourn in Cody, 
and the citizens there were mighty upset to lose a live one, especially 
since he had announced he was aiming to come back. They insisted 
he must have been poisoned, but the official verdict on the cause of 
death was apoplexy. 

250 Muenter, Erich 

Muenter, Erich (1880-1915) 


A man who poisoned his wife, sabotaged a ship at sea, exploded a 
bomb in the U.S. Capitol, and, for good measure, shot J. P. Morgan 
might begin to suspect that people considered him a menace to 
society. Not Erich Muenter, Ph.D., a fugitive Harvard instructor 
who did or was suspected of doing all of the above and more. But 
he saw himself as the savior of society. 

The man the press labeled the "Mad Mr. Muenter" and "Dr. 
Muenter and Mr. Hyde" did not have the look of madness about 
him. As an instructor at Harvard he was described by a student in 
his 1905 German class as looking "like a ghost caught out in day 
light"; hardly the description of a man given to violence. 

After his wife s sudden death, toxicologists made a belated 
discovery that her stomach was full of arsenic. By that time Dr. 
Muenter had had the rest of the body cremated, and he had also 
done a most thorough job of disappearing himself. 

Much to the embarrassment of Harvard, a wanted-for-ques- 
tioning-regarding-murder bulletin went out for the school s errant 
instructor, who bizarrely did not vanish quietly. From New Orleans 
he mailed 100 copies of a printed brochure to the president of 
Harvard and a number of the faculty. Entitled "A Protest," it exco 
riated both society in general for its treatment of persons under 
suspicion and the press in particular for its handling of crime news. 

In the eyes of all who read the atrocious account in the 
daily papers, I am a brutal murderer, a thing to be despised 
and shuddered at, an outcast, an enemy of humanity, a wild 
beast that must be hunted, killed or caged for the safety of 
the community. 

Whether I am guilty or not of all or any of the charges 
brought against me, what must be my attitude? Why, revenge! 
The lesson you teach me I shall execute and it will go hard 
with you. You fiends of hell, if I do not strain every nerve to 
get revenge, let me never again respect myself. 

I can never prove my innocence to you. My only witness 
is dead. Hence if I could annihilate all of ... Cambridge at 
one blow, that would be the thing to do. You will annihilate 
me; I must anticipate you. 

Muenter, Erich 251 

Clearly, the weird doctor had gone round the bend. Police fine- 
combing New Orleans could find no trace of him. 

Actually all Muenter had done was shave off his Vandyke beard 
and mustache, and move on to Fort Worth, Texas. Being then only 
in his mid-twenties, he enrolled at the Polytechnic College as Frank 
Holt, a clean-shaven, earnest-looking freshman. The halls of ivy 
proved a perfect hideout. Surprising everyone but himself, the bril 
liant young Holt breezed through four years of college work in 16 
months. In 1909 he was made a professor of elementary and ad 
vanced German at the school. By 1915 he was back East, teaching 
at Cornell, accompanied by a Texas bride and two young children. 
Dr. Holt was doing just fine. 

It took World War I to resurrect Erich Muenter In letters to 
newspaper editors, he railed against the war, especially against the 
munitions makers, and he noted that if J. P. Morgan was barred 
from shipping arms to the Allies Morgan s firm was acting as 
munitions purchasing agents in the United States for both England 
and France the war would end quickly. The French, he added, 
would quickly collapse, being a people of notoriously loose morals. 
"The heads of universities," he noted, "are afraid to expose their 
young students particularly the co-eds to a real Frenchman." 

He could not understand why newspaper readers did not rise 
up and demand support for his position. Infuriated, he deter 
mined to set off bombs in important places in the country to force 
fully demonstrate the horrors of war. 

He sent his wife and children on a trip to Texas and rented a 
cottage on Long Island, where he fashioned a king-sized bomb. On 
July 2, 1915, Muenter went by train to Washington and wandered 
through the corridors of the Capitol building, his grisly package 
under his arm. Finding the reception room outside the office of the 
vice president, in the Senate wing of the building, unguarded, he 
planted his bomb there and slipped away. When it went off, it took 
no lives but shattered much of the vice president s office. It was 
powerful enough to blow a watchman off his chair at the other end 
of the building. The man suffered several broken ribs. 

By this time Muenter was back in New York, where a bomb had 
gone off in Police Headquarters. By this time a letter he had sent to 
a Washington newspaper was published; in it the anonymous writer 
said he had planted the bomb as a protest against munitions ship 

Muenter did not wait to gauge the impact of his bombings on 
the public. Carrying another bomb, he traveled to Glen Cove, Long 
Island, where Morgan, Muenter s villain of villains, maintained his 

252 Benga, Ota 

estate. On the trip Muenter decided that setting off a bomb there 
was not enough. He was determined to kidnap Morgan s baby and 
thus force the financier to "stop the war." 

Forcing his way into the house, two guns pressed against the 
Morgan butler, Muenter demanded the child. What he got instead 
was Morgan himself barreling down the main stairwell straight at 
him like an enraged bull. Muenter shot Morgan twice in the chest, 
but the financier was not to be stopped and slammed into him. In 
the meantime the butler picked up a piece of coal from a fireplace 
and knocked the intruder out. 

The story made the newspaper headlines the next day, having 
far more impact than Muenter s bombs. "Holt" was identified as 
Muenter. Behind bars, Muenter said he was sorry that he was forced 
to shoot Morgan, whose wounds proved to be slight. But he warned 
grandiosely that he had also planted bombs on munitions ships. 
News came that a fire on the S.S. Minnehaha had broken out after a 
bomb blast. But learning that the blaze had been contained, Muen 
ter turned melancholy, feeling all his efforts had gone for nothing. 

On the afternoon of July 6, a detective interviewed him and 
asked, "Do you think you are crazy?" 

"I don t know," Muenter replied. "Sometimes I do, sometimes 
I don t. I ve been trying for six months to convince myself of one 
or two things either that I m crazy or that I m not. I haven t been 
able to settle that question yet." 

Later that night, in an unguarded moment, he dove from the 
walkway of the third-floor cell, landing headfirst on the concrete 
floor of the cell block 24 feet below. 

Benga, Ota (1881-1916) 


Probably no better example of an eccentric made by society, not 
born as one, was Ota Benga, a young pygmy brought to America 
from the Belgian Congo in 1904. Found by the noted African ex 
plorer Samuel Verner, he was exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis Ex- 

Benga, Ota 253 

position, and afterwards he was presented by Verner to the Bronx 
Zoo director, William Hornaday. Hornaday apparently saw no dif 
ference between a wild beast and the little black man; for the first 
time in any American zoo, a human being was displayed in a cage. 
Benga was given cage-mates in his captivity a parrot and an 
orangutan named Dohong. 

The situation produced moral outrage. The black community 
quite naturally was upset and campaigned for freeing Benga from 
his captivity. A number of white clergymen also expressed strong 
disapproval, but not because the pygmy was a human being caged 
like an animal. What these men of the cloth feared, in fact, was that 
the Benga exhibition might be used to prove the Darwinian theory 
of evolution. 

Hornaday insisted he was merely offering an intriguing exhibit 
for the people s edification. He dismissed the objections of a group 
of black clergymen that the pygmy s captivity was an affront to all 
black people, insisting that Benga was happy and that he was abso 
lutely free. This statement could not be confirmed by the man in 
the cage because he could not speak English. 

However, Hornaday finally bowed to the threat of legal action 
and allowed the pygmy out of his cage. This hardly dulled the 
pygmy s appeal as an attraction to tourists. Dapperly dressed in a 
white suit, Benga strutted around the zoo with huge crowds trailing 
him. At night he still returned to the monkey house to sleep. In 
time Benga s bizarre fate began to affect his behavior. Seeking to 
elude the mobs dogging his every step, he fashioned a bow and 
arrows to discourage them. Finally he wounded a visitor slightly. 

It was then only a matter of time ufttil Benga left the zoo for 
good. He came under the sympathetic care of a succession of insti 
tutions and individuals, but he never fully shed his "freak quality" 
attraction to the public. With the passing years the little black man, 
so long torn from his habitat, grew more hostile in behavior, for 
lorn, bitter, and, to some, "irrational." Tormented by his fate, and 
without funds to return to his native land, Benga committed suicide 
in 1916, using a gun. 

254 Collyer, Homer and Langley 

Collyer, Homer (1881-1947) and Langley (1885- 


They became New York s most celebrated hermits, the brothers 
Collyer, living in their three-story mansion on upper Fifth Avenue 
in a once fashionable part of Harlem. Homer Collyer and his 
brother, Langley, four years his junior, were the sons of a wealthy 
Manhattan gynecologist and a cultured mother who read them the 
classics in Greek. They were trained to be gentlemen-scholars. 
Homer became an admiralty lawyer, and Langley was both an en 
gineer and a talented concert pianist. 

In 1909 their parents separated, an event that had shattering 
effects on both their lives. They began drawing into their shells, 
continuing to live in the house with their mother. By the time she 
died, 20 years later, they had almost totally shut themselves off 
from the throbbing city outside. Harlem was changing, and more 
and more black people were moving into the neighborhood. The 
mansion at No. 2078, now boarded up, was pointed out as the 
abode of two reclusive millionaires living with their fortune hidden 
in the house. The misers had stopped paying their water and elec 
tric bills, and so they had lost those services. It mattered not; they 
were content to cook with a small kerosene stove, to haul water 
from a park fountain four blocks away. 

In 1933 Homer went blind, but the brothers did not consult a 
doctor. Langley told the few acquaintances he occasionally saw that 
he would cure his brother s blindness himself. He had him eat 100 
oranges a week, keeping his eyes closed to rest them. By 1940 
Homer was paralyzed as well. Now only Langley was ever seen on 
the streets, doing all the chores, keeping Homer and himself sup 
plied with food. He foraged in garbage cans, begged food from 
kindly butchers, and sometimes walked all the way to Brooklyn to 
buy a loaf of stale bread for just a few pennies. And always he 
collected bales of newspapers, so that Homer could catch up on his 
reading when he regained his sight. 

From time to time, news photographers caught Langley trying 
to avoid being seen by climbing over the mansion s grille-iron fence. 
The Collyer home was also of intense interest to burglars, but to no 
avail. Several tried to get in, but Langley had barricaded all the 

CoIIyer, Homer and Langley 255 

The body of 61-year-old Langley Collyer was found after police removed 120 tons of 
trash from the family s Harlem mansion. He had been crushed to death by one of his 
anti-burglar booby traps. (Wide World) 

entrances and windows with huge piles of debris, which defied 
passage. There were numerous passageways through the debris, 
but most ended in dead ends and were filled with booby traps. Only 
Langley knew which ones to take. Soon the criminals gave up. Not 
even a million dollars the reward they fully expected to find 
was worth the risks. 

By and large the police also ignored the Collyers. But they 
could not do so in March 1947, when an unknown caller reported 
a dead man at the mansion. It took the police a considerable length 
of time to investigate the tip. Chopping through the locked front 
door, they found their way blocked by a mountain of cartons, scrap 
iron, broken furniture, and newspapers. When they finally got in 
side, they discovered Homer dead on the second floor. He was 

256 Coneys, Theodore 

clothed only in a tattered bathrobe, with his long white hair reach 
ing below his shoulders. His hand only inches away from a dried- 
up apple, he had starved to death. 

The search for Langley proved fruitless at first. Bit by bit, 
searchers cleared the house, which was jammed almost solid with 
masses of junk honeycombed by twisting tunnels. Police found 14 
grand pianos, hundreds of ancient toys, cartons of molding cloth 
ing, thousands of books, bicycles, sewing machines, dressmaker 
dummies, piles of coal, obscene photographs, scrap iron, barbed 
wire, tree limbs, machinery, the chassis of a Model-T Ford, and the 
jawbone of a horse. 

At last they found Langley Collyer, much of his body chewed 
by rats. He had been crushed to death by one of his anti-burglar 
booby traps as he was bringing food to Homer. In all, the "loot" 
inside the house weighed more than 120 tons. No millions were 
discovered. In fact, the total Collyer fortune came to only about 
$100,000. Scores of relatives soon enough registered their claims 
to it. 

Coneys, Theodore (1882-1948) 


Recluses abound in this volume, but none was more eccentric than 
Theodore Coneys. Not unlike many other recluses, he locked him 
self up in a house, keeping away from the prying eyes of society. 
However, the house where Coneys hid away was not his; further 
more it was at the same time still occupied by its real owners. Still 
later, he continued to occupy it after it had become a "ghost house" 
in Denver, Colorado. 

The case of the Spiderman of Moncrieff Place first came to 
public attention late one evening in October 1941, when a couple 
living on that street became worried about an elderly neighbor, 
Philip Peters. Upon breaking into the house, they found him blud 
geoned to death. 

It would be a long time before the murder was solved; the 

Coneys, Theodore 257 

genesis of the case traced back about a month earlier, when a 59- 
year-old tramp named Theodore Coneys approached the Peters 
house to beg for food. He had known Peters decades earlier but 
doubted that he would remember him. 

Just as Coneys neared the house, Peters rushed out and got 
into a car to visit his wife who was in the hospital. To Coneys this 
was a fortuitous development. Instead of relying on the charity of 
a former acquaintance, he was provided with the chance to steal 
what he needed. Coneys got into the house without difficulty and, 
as he searched for money and food, he discovered a trapdoor, only 
about two and one-half times the size of a cigar-box lid. It opened 
to a narrow attic cubbyhole. It was obvious that Peters had never 
used the space, not easy to reach, but Coneys was a thin man and 
could squeeze through the opening. 

Instantly, Coneys changed his plans. He was a tired man; years 
on the road had worn him out and, whenever he was picked up by 
the police, he faced the threat of being sent to a mental institution 
as an incompetent. This made the cubbyhole all the more attractive. 
He could lead a joyful solitary existence up there with no more 
worries about finding shelter from the cold and wet. Coneys 
scoured the house and came up with some food, a pile of rags, and 
an old crystal radio, and he settled into his new home. The rags 
made as comfortable a bed as he had had in years. 

At first Coneys perhaps thought of his refuge as just a resting 
station for the winter. But soon he decided to remain as a perma 
nent, uninvited boarder. He listened to Peters shuffling down be 
low and watched when he left the house, whereupon he would 
descend from his attic home to snack, shave (with Peters razor), or 
even take a bath. 

On October 17, thinking that Peters had left the house, Coneys 
was having a full sit-down meal in the kitchen. Actually the old man 
was just taking a nap. Suddenly the sleepy Peters walked into the 
kitchen. He gaped at Coneys, whom he did not recognize. Then he 
started to scream, and Coneys, panicking, grabbed an iron stove 
shaker and attacked the home owner. Peters fell dead in a pool of 

For a moment Coneys considered flight, but he had nowhere to 
go. He climbed back into his hiding place and remained there with 
a store of food until, and long after, the body of the victim was 
found. The police searched the house, but hardly expected a mur 
derous intruder to still be there. They even noticed the trapdoor 
but concluded a man could not possibly slip through it. 

A few weeks later, the widowed Mrs. Peters returned from the 

258 BrinkleyJohnR. 

hospital with much trepidation. It soon seemed for good reason; 
several times at night both she and her housekeeper heard strange 
noises. Once the housekeeper screamed hysterically when she saw 
a shadowy figure in the hallway. But when she and Mrs. Peters 
investigated, they found nothing. The housekeeper decided the 
shadow had been Mr. Peters ghost and finally convinced her mis 
tress to move out of the house. 

Even while the house lay vacant, Coneys remained. He was 
well-stocked with food and obtained enough to drink from the 
snow-filled gutters outside his tiny window. The reputation of the 
old Peters place as a ghost house grew, particularly when passersby 
from time to time saw eerie lights at the top of the house. The 
police checked out such reports but Coneys heard them coming 
and managed to put out the light in time. The police concluded 
that neighborhood children were trying to frighten neighbors with 
mysterious lights from an abandoned house. 

Nevertheless the police made routine checks on the house and, 
in late July 1942, two detectives heard a door shut on the second 
floor. They charged up the stairs just in time to see Coneys feet 
disappearing through the trapdoor. The odd Spiderman of Mon- 
crieff Place, as the newspapers dubbed him, was captured. He was 
tried for the murder of Peters and, despite a claim of insanity by 
the defense, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. 

Brinkley, "Dr." John R. (1885-1942) 

It has been said that few areas of quackery have had a longer or 
more insane history than that of sexual rejuvenation, and in the 
case of "Goat Gland" Brinkley it would be difficult to find a more 
earnest, if crackpot, believer; or one, for that matter, who had a 
greater impact. 

"Dr." John R. Brinkley gained his title through a Midwest di 
ploma mill. When that institution was discredited, he managed, 
with the outlay of a considerable sum of money under the table for 

Brinkley, John R. 259 

certain officials, to obtain another medical degree from Italy s Uni 
versity of Pavia, Armed with such an imposing background, Brink- 
ley a man of earnest mien, neatly trimmed goatee, and 
spectacles seemed very much the scientist as he promised to re 
store men of any age to full sexual vigor. 

For the trifling sum of $750 Brinkley would give a man the 
transplanted glands or testicles of a billy goat ($1,500 for a very 
young goat). The patient was then supposed to enjoy a complete 
sexual renaissance. Goat Gland Brinkley, as he came to be called, 
operating out of the Brinkley Gland Clinic in Milford, Kansas, even 
allowed patients to pick out the billies of their choice from a back 
yard pen, thus assuring themselves that they were getting active 

Evidently Brinkley qualified for performing this revolutionary 
scientific advance thanks to his slaughterhouse work for Swift & 
Co., the meat-packing firm, and a two-month stint in the army (four 
weeks of which was spent under psychiatric observation). With that 
background he stepped right into business. Indeed, some of Brink- 
ley s patients showed improvement, reflecting the well-known ben- 

Rejuvenator of prowess, Goat Gland 
Brinkley couldn t resuscitate his bus 
iness and so, with attorney Anthony 
Davis (left), voluntarily declared 
bankruptcy. (Wide World) 

260 Brinkley, John R. 

efits of the hard sell in the days before sex clinics and surrogates. 
Brinkley s advertising was right to the point. "Here, here/ his offer 
went. "Just let me get your goat and you ll be Mr. Ram-What-Am 
with every lamb." And while Goat Gland Brinkley had millions of 
Americans chuckling in the 1920s, he also had tons of supporters. 

The Maharaja Thakou of Morvi hustled all the way from India 
for the transplant. E. Haldeman-Julius, the publisher of the Little 
Blue Books, was fooled by Brinkley; for several years he ran the 
goat-gland man s advertisements free, as well as doing puff pieces 
about him in a periodical devoted chiefly to debunking American 
life. Later on, Haldeman-Julius publicly apologized for his errors, 
but Brinkley was already well on his way. He soon was a millionaire 
thanks to the public reception of his claims. 

To this day, there is not the flimsiest evidence that the glands 
of any animal can make a man strut about like a rooster, but this 
did not prevent Brinkley from imparting 5,000 pairs of goat 
glands perhaps much more than that to men from almost every 
state of the Union. By the time Brinkley was forced to roll up his 
medical license, he had earned a title from the American Medical 
Association as a "giant in quackery" and "the greatest charlatan in 
medical history." 

Of course, being opposed by the medical profession fired 
Brinkley up all the more, since he truly believed his goat-gland 
theories. He regarded himself as the greatest mind of the century, 
considering Einstein by comparison to be nothing more than a 
"foreign upstart." Brinkley had a cure for just about everything, 
and he was busily working on a form of goat wizardry that would 
return mental patients to normal existence, with IQs to match their 
newfound sexual prowess. 

Because the forces of government started to wage war on him, 
Brinkley, sporting his own radio station, moved into politics, three 
times running for governor of Kansas, and darn near winning each 
time. In 1930, the Democratic and Republican candidates polled 
217,000 and 216,000 to Brinkley s 183,000, but all the goat man s 
votes had to be write-ins, since he could not get on the ballot. 
Brinkley claimed he was robbed of the election since some 56,000 
ballots were thrown out. 

In the next election, famed Kansas editor William Allen White 
was so frightened of Brinkley that he organized a "Save Kansas" 
campaign to beat him. In the voting, Alf Landon polled 278,000 to 
Woodring s 272,000 and Brinkley s 244,000. Brinkley even got 
thousands of write-ins in adjacent counties of Oklahoma, where he 
wasn t on the ballot. 

Kelly, Alvin 261 

It is said that the electoral defeats as well as the loss of his radio 
license really sent Brinkley over the edge, and he proclaimed, "to 
hell with Kansas," closed up his Milford gland clinic, and removed 
to Mexico -just across the Rio Grande, where he set up a new 
station as well as a clinic. There he pretended to perform prostate 
operations and peddled a medicine cure-all that contained nothing 
but blue dye and a touch of hydrochloric acid. Although it was not 
known at the time, Brinkley moved politically far to the right; he 
contributed to William Dudley Pelley s Silver Shirts, a native fascist 

In 1937 Brinkley opened a new hospital in Little Rock, Arkan 
sas, where he continued his medical quackery, flitting between that 
city and Mexico. He also continued to entertain his own political 
ambitions and, in 1941, filed for Texas 1 Democratic nomination for 
U.S. senator. Back in Kansas, William Allen White grumbled, "He 
is irresistible to the moron mind, and Texas has plenty of such." 

As it turned out, White s lathering up was needless. By then 
Goat Gland Brinkley had lost his hold over even the unwashed. Few 
people cared about him any more. In May 1942 he died of a heart 
attack at the age of 56. In Milford, a touching inscription appears 
on the Brinkley Memorial Church, reading: "Erected to God and 
His Son Jesus in appreciation of the many blessings conferred upon 
me, by J.R. Brinkley." 

Kelly, Alvin "Shipwreck" (18859-1952) 

More than 30 years ago, a group of journalists and historians were 
asked to name the one person who best typified, for its mindless 
nonsense, the so-called Roaring Twenties. Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly 
scored at the top of the list, far ahead of the goldfish swallowers. In 
1952, just a couple of years after this dubious honor, Shipwreck 
Kelly dropped dead between two parked cars. He had been home 
on relief, living in a seedy flat on New York s 51st Street between 
Eighth and Ninth avenues. Locked under his arm when he was 
found was a worn scrapbook full of yellowed newspaper clippings 

262 Kelly, Alvin 

Shipwreck Kelly Ignored superstition on Friday, October 13, 1939 by standing on his 
head eating donots on a plank extended from a Manhattan skyscraper. (Wide World) 

about his exploits as the 20th century s most redoubtable flagpole 
sitter. He carried the scrapbook around to show to anyone he could 
pester into viewing it. 

Alvin Kelly had always strived for recognition, flitting from one 
career to another with that goal in mind. He was at various times a 
merchant seaman, rigger, structural iron worker, human fly, high 
diver, boxer, pilot, aerial athlete, soldier of fortune, sign painter, 
stunt man, and window washer (at which task he often challenged 
co-workers to eschew safety belts as he often did). 

Kelly told all who would listen, in bars, parks, on street corners, 
that as a sailor he had survived 32 shipwrecks. On occasion that 
figure changed to 62. Kelly suffered a lifelong difficulty telling the 
same story twice. Chances are slim that Kelly survived even one 

Kelly, Alvin 263 

such disaster. In fact his nickname of Shipwreck had an entirely 
different origin: as a prizefighter known as Sailor Kelly, he spent so 
much time stretched out on his back on the canvas that boxing fans 
often chanted, "The sailor s been shipwrecked again!" 

Kelly finally found his calling of flagpole sitter in 1924, when 
he was about 39 although he advertised himself as 32. He liked to 
say Jack Dempsey was the inspiration for what was to become his 
life s obsession. He said he was in a hotel in New Jersey on the eve 
of the Dempsey-Carpentier fight in 1921; when he defended 
Dempsey against some slurs, a group of drunks tossed him out the 
window. He managed to grab hold of a flagpole and the inspiration 
hit him. But on other occasions he told a different story: he was in 
Florida in 1922 when the heavyweight champion chased him up a 
palmetto tree. It occurred to Kelly that he had a knack for shinning 
up to high places and staying there without discomfort. Dempsey, 
when asked about this version, did allow it was conceivable that he 
had met Shipwreck some time, somewhere; but he insisted he had 
never chased him or anyone else up a tree. 

Actually Kelly took to flagpole sitting in a logical place Hol 
lywood. He had performed a steeplejack stunt in a 1924 epic, and 
a press agent asked him if he could do 10 hours on a flagpole. 
Shipwreck said, absolutely; and in no time at all he was stationed 
high above a Los Angeles movie house, shilling some lesser epic of 
derring-do. He stayed aloft for 13 days and 13 hours. From there 
on, at one exhibition after another, he came down to cheers of 
crowds who had gathered to watch. They cheered him for what he 
did, and they never really asked why he did it. 

Shipwreck s props included an eight-inch disk that fitted on 
the top of the pole, to provide him with a platform. He often 
fashioned a makeshift chair to sit on. He was able to sleep during 
his performances by locking his thumbs in bowling-ball-style holes 
in the flagpole shaft. If he swayed while dozing, the twinge of pain 
in his thumbs caused him to right himself without waking up. He 
trained himself to catnap five minutes every hour and found he 
could last almost indefinitely in that fashion. Some who came to 
marvel at Shipwreck seemed most intrigued about how he disposed 
of waste matter; after the performance, they studied the special 
hose run up beside the flagpole. 

Love came to Shipwreck because of his exploits in Dallas, 
Texas, when he did a New Year s act atop a hotel. Inside the hotel, 
an unimpressed Texan stepped into an elevator and asked the fe 
male operator, "Is that damn fool still up there?" 

264 Kelly, Alvin 

The operator, a young woman named Frances Vivian Steele, 
slapped the man s face, snapping, "He s not a fool." 

While management threatened to fire the girl, news of her 
defense of his honor was passed to Shipwreck. Naturally he wanted 
to meet her, a situation that required she be raised to his side by 
rope and tackle. The result was an aerial handshake, and a trip 
some time after to the altar. 

By 1928 Shipwreck was making $100 a day by his flagpole 
perching, and in 1929 he did a cumulative total of 145 days up 
high. By that time he had a son Little Shipwreck of course but 
trouble was developing in the marital bed. "What s the use of having 
a husband unless he comes home nights?" Vivian wailed bitterly. 
Finally realizing that flagpole sitting was a compulsion that her hus 
band would never abandon, she packed up and left with Little 

Meanwhile, in the summer of 1930, Shipwreck set a new 
world s record for flagpole sitting, at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, 
staying aloft for 1,177 hours, or more than 49 days. However, Ship 
wreck^ day was rapidly passing. Later that year Shipwreck suffered 
through a terrible ordeal atop New York s Paramount Hotel. His 
13-day, 13-hour, 13-minute stint took place in zero-degree weather 
with an almost steady downfall of snow, sleet, and freezing rain. At 
street level shills collected a pitiful $13. America, now mired in the 
Great Depression, with many people not even having goldfish to 
eat, had little time for such tomfoolery as flagpole sitting. 

Shipwreck kept trying, sure his obsessive act would catch on 
again. In 1935 he tried an exhibition in the Bronx, but was forced 
down when police threatened to cut the pole. He enjoyed a brief 
resurrection in 1939, when he was hired to promote National 
Doughnut Week by standing on his head on a plank extending out 
from the 56-story Chanin Building then still the tallest skyscraper 
in midtown New York and eating 13 hand-fed doughnuts. He was 
54 at the time. 

He managed to scrape by the next few years with stints above 
saloons, to lure in thirsty clients; by 1942 Shipwreck had been 
reduced to painting flagpoles at Palisades Amusement Park in New 
Jersey. One day he slipped, fell five feet and was hurt. 

There were no more stunts for Shipwreck Kelly. He was on 
home relief, with nothing to show for his eccentric career but a 
yellowed collection of newsclips that he could hardly get anyone to 
look at. But Shipwreck did, to the day he died. 

Leedskalnin, Edward 265 

Leedskalnia Edward (1887-1951) 


Slaves of unrequited love, as noted elsewhere in these pages, have 
often become hermits. Yet others, like James Lick, have turned into 
money-making machines, to prove to themselves and others that 
they were worthier than they had been treated. A Latvian immi 
grant, Edward Leedskalnin, was cut from a different mold. He built 
a castle of gigantic blocks of coral a masterpiece of construction 
which to this day baffles engineers as much as the techniques used 
by the Egyptians in building the pyramids to shelter his shattered 
romantic dreams. 

In 1912, when Leedskalnin was 25, he became engaged to a 
16-year-old peasant girl in his small native village outside Riga. On 
the eve of the wedding, his bride-to-be broke off the affair, telling 
him she was in love with someone else. 

Shattered but with the flame of love still burning within him, 
Leedskalnin left Latvia. He decided that if he could accomplish 
something that would seize the world s attention, he would win back 
the love of the girl he was always to refer to as "My Sweet Sixteen." 

Coming to America, Leedskalnin tried his luck in New York, 
California, Texas, and finally Florida, where he settled in the little 
hamlet of Florida City. He had by this time decided on his great 
enterprise; he would build a monument to his love that would be 
one of the wonders of the modern world. 

He began his work on a great "coral castle" and, when Florida 
City became too crowded, he moved everything to Homestead, 
Florida, where singlehandedly he quarried and set in place coral 
rock segments weighing up to 70,000 pounds each. He carved out 
an obelisk 27 feet high, three feet higher than the great central 
trilithon erected by the mysterious builders at Stonehenge, En 
gland. Everything Leedskalnin built both in his two-storied castle 
and in the park tables, chairs, rockers, bathtubs, a "twisted heart" 
sculpture were made of coral rock, without any benefit of cement. 

How he lifted the great rocks into place including that of an 
eight-foot-high, three-foot-thick wall to keep out the curious re 
mains a mystery to this day. From time to time he would show 
visiting engineers his self-made machinery for hoisting huge 
weights a simple enough conglomeration of chains, pulleys, and 

266 Leedskalnin, Edward 

levers but none of these experts saw how the devices could lift 
such tremendous weights. The mysterious Leedskalnin never al 
lowed anyone to see him at work and when townsfolks saw him 
scouring junkyards for scrap parts and chains and wheels from 
railroad hand cars, they knew better than to ask him what use 
he intended to make of them. His workshop was at all times lit 
tered with wedges, jacks, rollers, slings, sledgehammers, cables, 
and chisels. 

Leedskalnin was vain enough to invite neighbors in to view a 
new creation now and then. He was particularly proud of his "re 
pentance corner," where he said his children would be punished 
after the arrival of Sweet Sixteen. It was built along the lines of a 
colonial pillory, and, the Latvian assured his visitors, "The kids 
might forget a whipping, but they ll never forget this." At times he 
admitted the mere presence of the repentance corner might be 
enough to assure good behavior of children. 

Leedskalnin was a frugal man of simple tastes, and thus he 
lived quite well in his coral castle. Still, a castle is a big place to 
clean; the Latvian constructed everything so that such labors would 
be done with the greatest possible ease. His bed could be pulled to 
the ceiling after he arose so that making it was unnecessary. The 
legless table was attached to the wall, making sweeping under it a 

The rear entrance to his park was through a nine-ton door, 
perfectly balanced on pivots so that even a small child could open 
it with ease. Leedskalnin constructed a telescope weighing 30 tons 
and towering 25 feet to study the North Star. He mystified horti 
culturists with a solid rock table in which a flowering centerpiece 
grew without difficulty. 

As the Latvian s castle and park grew, it quite naturally at 
tracted visitors. Leedskalnin did not encourage such visitors, but 
he permitted them to enter without paying fees although he did 
accept donations. His proudest boast to them was that in all his 
years of labor, he had never ruined a single stone, an amazing 
accomplishment considering the way coral can crumble. He amused 
people with a rock turnstile which weighed three tons, so perfectly 
balanced that visitors could push their way through using only their 
pinkies for leverage. 

Leedskalnin never revealed the secrets of his construction 
methods and spurned all such pleas that he do so. As he grew older, 
he became more crotchety, considering himself a failure in spite of 
his incredible works. As the years passed, he came to realize his 
efforts were in vain. Despite the many letters he wrote back to 

Anonymous 267 

Latvia, Sweet Sixteen never came. And when Russia swallowed up 
Latvia, it became apparent to him that she never would. 

He died in 1951 at the age of 64, but his monument remains, 
his castle and park becoming one of Florida s most unusual and 
popular tourist attractions. And professional engineers still wonder 
about how Leedskalnin did it, just as they have puzzled about the 
Egyptians and their pyramids. 

Anonymous (fl 189Qs-190Qs) 


Within the social order of the red-light district of pre-earthquake 
San Francisco, there were many unusual characters; but none fired 
the imaginations of local practitioners, press, and public as much as 
the "French Maid" at Madame Marcelle s Parisian Mansion, one of 
the more infamous Barbary Coast brothels on Commercial Street. 

For years there was much speculation as to the identity of the 
French Maid, an understandable preoccupation since "she" was ac 
tually a middle-aged man who appeared each morning armed with 
a bundle of women s clothing. He donned the attire, then swept 
and dusted the house from parlor to attic, never so much as say 
ing a word to the inmates. His task completed, he put back 
on his regular clothes and left, depositing a silver dollar on the 
parlor table. 

The French Maid made his appointed rounds for several years 
around the turn of the century, but his identity remained a secret. 
The ladies of Madame Marcelle s establishment felt he was probably 
an important politician; a number of journalists theorized that he 
was a leading banker or businessman; and the National Police Gazette 
speculated that he was a man of the cloth. These conjectures may 
have merely reflected hostility toward the establishment or, in the 
case of the Police Gazette, toward the clergy. Nevertheless, to many, 
the expenditure of the not inconsiderable sum of $7 a week 
enough in that era for a man to support his family indicated a 
man of means. 

268 Diederkh, 

Only Madame Marcelle knew for sure and could have told. 
However, she adhered till the end to her belief that a business 
woman in her profession who forsook discretion would not long 

enjoy prosperity. 

Diederich, Hugo (ft 189CV-1920) 

Not many towns of less than 350 inhabitants in turn-of-the-century 
America could boast of, or need, two barbers, but the Missouri river 
town of Rocheport qualified for that honor. One was the town s 
regular barber who handled all the local inhabitants. The other w r as 
Hugo Diederich, a German with a deep, thick accent that towns 
men loved to imitate. Hugo of Rocheport was much celebrated but 
never patronized by the locals. 

Nobody knew, or at least in later years could remember, exactly 
where he d come from or indeed where he went when he finally 
packed up his razors shortly after World War I; but tales of his 
bartering by then had become legendary. 

It was said that Hugo of Rocheport never got any repeat cus 
tomers, that a man would have to be insane to ever sit under his 
razor a second time, risking again an abrupt demise after learning 
the perils of that barber chair. That was an exaggeration. Hugo did 
have repeats, but admittedly they were not Rocheporters. The trou 
ble with old Hugo, everyone agreed, was that he was a mad barber, 
one who could not contain a desire to be the fastest practitioner of 
the scissors-and-razor set. 

Rocheport was at the time a not unimportant rail link, and 
travelers often found themselves with layovers in the town. There 
was time to seek out a fast shave, and there was Hugo s shop right 
by the tracks. Hugo had to make hay when a train was due, and he 
sought to take care of as many patrons as possible in the limited 
time. He had to be fast. Fast? Hugo was a shaving fool! 

Hugo was extremely popular with railroad engineers because 
they could jump off a non-stopping train as it was roaring through 

Diederich, Hugo 269 

the station (so the tale went), charge into Hugo s parlor, get lathered 
up and shaved, and still rush out in time to catch the caboose when 
it came along. 

Once a man rushed into Hugo s shop less than five minutes 
before a train would make a 30-second stop. Could Hugo shave 
him in so little time? 

"Sure!" cried Hugo. 

"But I don t like any pulling or scratching," the man admon 

"Mister," Hugo replied with pained chagrin, "if I give you one 
scratch, you get another shave free before the train comes." 

Hugo was famed among other barbers in surrounding com 
munities and indeed other counties and states, and it was said many 
tonsorial experts journeyed to Rocheport to see the master in ac 
tion. Master he most certainly was, and it was legend among youn 
ger barbers that Hugo at either the Chicago or St. Louis World Fair 
received a medal as the best straight-edge man in the world. 

Hugo was truly amazing, with a work-load capacity that awed 
other barbers. When the railroad crews were in town, he often 
shaved for 24 hours without a break, staying on his feet for contin 
uous "minute shaves." Hugo liked to brag that his prowess was 
due to his speed razors, some 1,000 straight-edged blades he had 
ready for use. He would size up a man s beard instantly for the 
most likely steel. 

Time and again locals would advise him he could build his 
practice enormously if he cut down on his mad stress on high-speed 
shaving. The locals liked a barber who had time for a few words, 
who could discuss the latest news with a measure of leisure. Would 
Hugo try to do that? "Ja,jal" Hugo responded with hasty assurance, 
too fast to inspire confidence. 

One day when the town s other barber was swamped with cus 
tomers, one of the permanents screwed up his courage and entered 
Hugo s shop. No train was due for some four hours which meant 
Hugo would be idle for that long. 

Hugo was mighty pleased to see a local and made an elaborate 
routine of preparing the lather and toweling the man. It was a 
monumental effort on Hugo s part. Then he picked up the razor 
and with a single stroke shaved the whiskers off the entire right side 
of the man s face. The customer bolted from the chair as Hugo 
turned to wipe the razor clean. 

"What s the matter?" compulsive Hugo cried. "I will shave you 
quick. I will shave you." 

270 Adamski, George 

"I know you will," the man said, fear mirrored in his eyes, "but 
if your razor slipped, my head would fall off! * 

He threw off the towels and, half his face still lathered, he 
raced down the street to have the job completed by the other bar 

Sadly, Hugo must have finally known his days in Rocheport 
were numbered. With a change in train schedules after World War 
I Hugo s business fell off disastrously and he left town, the locals 
not knowing to where and, indeed, caring little. 

Adamski, George (1890-1965) 


In the strange world of UFO believers, George Adamski occupies a 
special niche. Indeed, there are those who consider all exponents 
of flying saucers to be "nuts," but that still leaves George Adamski, 
who is considered even within the field as pretty much of an embar 

An amateur astronomer and former head of a mystical cult 
called the Royal Order of Tibet, Adamski ran a hamburger stand 
at the foot of Palomar Mountain in California during the 1940s and 
early 1950s. Then on November 20, 1952, Adamski said he "made 
personal contact with a man from another world." 

Adamski s newfound friend, whom he met in the California 
desert, was from Venus, about five feet six inches tall, had gray 
eyes, long hair, a brown jump suit, and oxblood shoes. Later, Adam- 
ski said, he made a rash of friends from other planets as well, from 
Mars and Saturn; those from the latter planet were very much 
better looking and smarter than most earthlings, he reported in 
such books as Behind the Flying Saucer Mystery, Flying Saucers Have 
Landed, and Inside the Space Ships. 

This last contribution was rather important, because his oth- 
erworld buddies invited him to take a spin in space. Adamski had 
a jolly time, especially when having refreshments with an "incredi 
bly lovely" blonde name Kaina and an equally charming brunette 

Adamski, George 271 

named Ilmuth. As much as Adamski enjoyed his out-of-this-worid 
adventures, so much did the spacemen like their adventures on 
earth, according to Adamski s reports. He met one space traveler at 
a favorite restaurant, where the alien especially liked the hamburg 
ers and the apple pie. They just didn t know how to make those 
specialties back on Venus. 

In fact, according to Adamski, Planet Earth was becoming 
overloaded with extraterrestrials going about posing as humans. 
Their main mission, he said, was to study man s nuclear activities, 
which very much worried the folks of other planets in the solar 
system. They were not fond of any big bangs, they told Adamski. 

There are those who said that the more whoppers Adamski told, 
the more he himself accepted the tales. He was a totally committed 
believer, it was said. And, in fact, no one was ever able to get Adam- 
ski to retract the slightest point in any of his claims, right up to the 
day he died, in a Maryland sanitarium in 1965. 

UFO nut George Adamski reported that the space aliens he met were wild about 
hamburgers and apple pie. (Wide World) 

272 Weyman, Stanley Clifford 

Weymaa Stanley Clifford (1891-1960) 

Born Stanley Weinberg in Brooklyn in 1891, Stanley Clifford Wey 
man was a man of many identities and impostures, and was forever 
a puzzlement to the police. A fabulous fraud, he was at times a 
diplomat, a doctor, a journalist, and a draft-dodge adviser. How 
ever, he seldom did it for money but rather simply for the art of 
fooling people, often hilariously doing so. When he did it for profit, 
it was simply a demonstration of the eternal truth that even fakers 
must eat It in no way corrupted his art. 

Once late in his career a reporter asked Weyman why he did 
the things he did. "One man s life is a boring thing," he explained. 
"I live many lives. I m never bored." 

Weyman wanted to study to be a doctor but his poor Brooklyn 
parents could not afford such expenses, and instead Weyman, a 
name he adopted early in life, was forced to look forward to an 
existence of clerking in stores and counting houses. It was no life 
for him and Weyman decided he was entitled to more than being a 
drudge, so he quit his job in a Brooklyn counting house and crossed 
over into Manhattan. Decked out in a purple uniform, he declared 
himself to be U.S. Consul Delegate to Morocco. 

He frequented plush hotels and restaurants, running up im 
pressive tabs as this mythical diplomat. Once, fresh out of checks, 
he appropriated an expensive camera and hocked it. This errant 
behavior led to his unmasking and Weyman, not yet 2 1 (a heavy 
beard had made him appear older), was shipped off to the Elmira 

Here Weyman reformed, in a manner of speaking. He resolved 
never again to sink to petty thievery. When he got out on parole 
the following year, Weyman reported to his parole officer and an 
nounced he had a job. He neglected to mention what it was. He 
then decked himself out as a military attache from Serbia. He also 
moonlighted as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. 

It paid off for a time, but finally he was caught and imprisoned 
again. Paroled a second time, Weyman swore to authorities he 
would do it no more. But in 1915 he got himself another uniform 
and became a lieutenant commander in the Rumanian Navy as well 
as Rumanian Consul General in New York. Aware of the high duties 
of his position, Weyman decided he should inspect a battleship. He 

Weyman, Stanley Clifford 273 

appeared at the U.S. Navy Department office in New York and said 
he had been ordered by his queen to offer his respects. The navy 
accepted an invitation to pay an official visit to Rumania s Black 
Sea ports and, in return, Weyman was asked to inspect the USS 

Although a mere 24 years old, Weyman in his sky-blue uniform 
had a severe mein that made him appear much older. He was very 
stern inspecting the sailors standing at attention, and he even rep 
rimanded a few of them. Later, the important foreigner mellowed, 
and he invited the officers of the ship to dine with him at the Astor 

For the occasion Weyman reserved a private dining room with 
instructions that the bill be sent to the Rumanian Consulate in 
Washington. Had the New York Times not printed a brief, supplied 
by the hotel publicity department, about Consul General Weyman 
hosting a banquet for the officers of a navy ship, his imposture 
might have worked to perfection. Unfortunately, a sharp-eyed po 
lice officer spotted the squib and wondered if that could possibly be 
the same old Weyman. A couple of detectives checked out the ban 
quet and Weyman was once more in custody. Rather piqued, Wey 
man said, "You could have waited until after dessert." 

When the United States entered World War I, Weyman did the 
patriotic thing. He commissioned himself as a lieutenant in the 
Army Air Corps under the name of Royal St. Cyr. He was arrested 
at the Forty-seventh Regiment Armory in Brooklyn while staging 
one of his usual "inspections." 

By this time Weyman was rather disgusted with military ca 
reers and switched to medicine. Soon "Doctor" Weyman was off for 
a year to Lima, Peru, in the service of a construction company as its 
medical consultant. He carried off his act there rather well by doing 
practically nothing medically, assigning all duties to local doctors. 

Instead Weyman spent all his time throwing lavish parties in a 
villa he had rented, sending the bills back to the New York office. 
Never having had a medical man who was such a spendthrift, the 
firm decided to check his credentials a bit more thoroughly. Soon, 
Weyman was returning to the United States, his medical career 
aborted, at least for a time. 

In 1921 Weyman evidently took stock of his career and found 
it wanting. He was either always in jail or flat broke. He decided to 
mend his ways. He did so in a not very socially accepted manner. 

Princess Fatima of Afghanistan was at the time visiting Amer 
ica, and she was in residence in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria. One 
morning a Lieutenant Commander Weyman showed up as the U.S. 

274 Weyinan, Stanley Clifford 

State Department s head of protocol. The princess was very pleased 
since up until then the U.S. government had paid her no mind. 
The commander arranged for her to go to Washington to meet 
President Harding, and he even posed with Fatima and the presi 
dent for official White House photographs. He also got $10,000 
from the Princess, after explaining to her that it was customary for 
guests to this country to distribute gratuities to the junior officials 
who handled the details for her visit to the capital. He gladly han 
dled the matter for Fatima and said he would also take care of her 
hotel bill. 

Exit Lt. Commander Weyman. A New York newspaper photo 
editor was to see the pictures of Weyman s White House call. 
Throwing the prints in the air, he shouted, "That little S.O.B. s 
done it again!" 

The next year, however, Weyman was apprehended while pos 
ing as a hospital official who had greeted Dr. Adolf Lorenz, the 
world-famed bloodless surgeon from Vienna, before he had even 
disembarked from his liner. Weyman came aboard by launch and 
in fact acted as Dr. Lorenz s interpreter with the reporters who 
interviewed him. Dr. Lorenz found Weyman indispensable until 
it was discovered the latter was extracting fees from patients the 
Viennese surgeon was examining as a courtesy. Weyman got a year 
for that one, plus two years for the Fatima matter. 

In 1926 Weyman was living in obscurity in Brooklyn when 
Rudolph Valentino, the Great Lover of the silent movies, died. Ac 
tress Pola Negri hurried to New York just to inform the press how 
crushed she was, especially since she and Valentino were secretly 
engaged. La Negri insisted her own health was endangered by her 

Out of Brooklyn came Dr. Weyman to take care of her. At first 
the actress thought the little man was a bit cracked, but when he 
agreed that her condition was fragile indeed, she realized he ob 
viously knew his stuff. The knight errant medico issued bulletins to 
reporters on Negri s condition. The Times also reported to its read 
ers that the doctor was the author of a highly regarded (if non 
existent) volume entitled Weyman on Medico-Jurisprudence. 

Dr. Weyman accompanied Negri to Campbell s Funeral Home 
for a last look at her departed lover. When a woman in the crowd 
fainted, Weyman was right there with his smelling salts. It was his 
finest hour. 

Even his later greeting of Queen Marie of Rumania as an un 
der secretary of state could not match the high drama of the Val 
entino funeral, but it was still a tour de force. He conned his way 

The Cherry Sisters 275 

past the queen s secret service guards and, in the course of greeting 
her, got her to answer all sorts of questions. Actually a roguish 
newspaper of the day, the New York Graphic had hired him to quiz 
the queen, who had refused the press all interviews. Weyman,, the 
impostor, was becoming a genuine journalist. 

But he went back to the wrong during World War II, when he 
set himself up as a "selective service consultant," giving instruction 
in draft-dodging to pupils interested in how to simulate deafness 
or, in the case of the particularly dim-looking candidates, how to 
fake feeblemindedness. 

That one got Weyman seven long years in the slammer. In 
1948, fresh out of prison, Weyman turned up at the United Nations 
at Lake Success, of all places, working for a small news service and 
radio station. Weyman hobnobbed with the likes of Warren Austin, 
the chief American delegate, and Andrei Gromyko, his Russian 
counterpart. The delegation from Thailand was so impressed with 
Weyman s style that, in 1950, it offered him a job as its press officer 
with full diplomatic accreditation. Weyman was thrilled at the pros 
pect but first wrote to the State Department inquiring if taking such 
a post would affect his American citizenship. The State Department 
had had some experience with Stanley Clifford Weyman, and he 
was soon back on the street, his chances for a diplomatic career 

Weyman sort of faded away after that, or at least was unheard 
of again until 1960, when he was working as a night manager in a 
New York hotel. He was shot to death by a thief he had tried to stop 
from robbing the hotel safe. Oddly, in his last act in real life, the 
mad imposter ended up playing the role of hero. 

The Cherry 6tetera (R 1893-1903) 


For a decade at the turn of the century, the Cherry Sisters became 
the best known if not the best loved stage performers in America. 
In 1893 the sisters Lizzie, Effie, Jessie, and Addie, aged 17 to 22 
strutted on to a stage in Cedar Rapids, Michigan, to perform a 

276 The Cherry Sisters 

sketch of their own composition in an amateur program. They 
didn t win. In fact they were, by popular opinion, absolutely terri 
ble. Only the sisters themselves thought they had merit, and soon 
they pushed on to the most fantastic career in the history of the 
American theater certainly so, considering the talent involved. 

They played in vaudeville houses throughout the Midwest, giv 
ing performances that were so ludicrously bad that audiences 
pelted them with garbage and overripe tomatoes. Finally they could 
only perform with a wire-mesh screen in front of them. We are 
told, and there is much reason to believe, that the Cherry Sisters 
did not regard themselves individually as subpar performers. Each 
was sure she was the best of the bunch, that if there was any bad 
reaction from the audience it was due to her three sisters. 

Inevitably they played to packed houses; this fact might cause 
a psychiatrist today to deduce that the audiences were letting 
out their aggressions by going to see, and reacting to, the Cherry- 

Inevitably, Broadway beckoned in the person of the great 
impresario Oscar Hammerstein, who had in the years just prior to 
1896 staged a number of shows that died. Good talent, Hammer- 
stein decided, was no guarantee to success. Could the worst do 
better? He gave the Cherry Sisters a contract guaranteeing $ 1 ,000 
a week. 

On November 16, the sisters opened at the Olympia Theater, 
strangely if stunningly clad in fiery-red dresses, hats, and woolen 
mittens. Their garb was the high point of their act, which hit rock 
bottom when they opened their mouths. New York audiences, being 
a bit more sophisticated than their country cousins, sat in goggle- 
eyed silence as the sisters launched into their first number, "Cher 
ries Ripe Boom-de-ay!" Jessie slammed away on the bass drum 
while her three sisters belted out: 

Cherries ripe Boom-de-ay! 
Cherries red Boom-de-ay! 
The Cherry sisters 
Have come to stay! 

The rendition was, to put it charitably, grotesque, but the sis 
ters were thrilled. Not a single New Yorker hurled a missile at them, 
at first. This remarkable development could only be explained by 
the fact that the audience had come ill-prepared, a situation that 
would change rapidly thereafter. 

The first-night reviews were ghastly. Lizzie, probably to the 

Manville, Tommy 277 

delight of her sisters, was singled out by one critic who said, "A 
locksmith with a strong rasping file could earn ready wages taking 
the kinks out of Lizzie s voice." The New York World was more kind, 
saying, "It was awful," while the New York Times, a model of restraint, 
declared, "It is sincerely hoped that nothing like them will ever be 
seen again." Thereafter, even New York audiences knew to come 
armed with vegetables and empty beer bottles, and the trusty 
screen, by now the sisters trademark, was called upon once again 
for duty. 

A cynic might say the Cherry Sisters laughed all the way to the 
bank; when they retired in 1903 to live the farm life with their 
fortune of $200,000, they truly believed they were among the 
world s finest actresses, that only jealous professional competitors 
had ever attacked them. In fact, in later interviews they insisted 
that they had never been targets of any garbage or slop, that no 
one had ever thrown a thing at them. How could that have been, 
they asked, when they always played to full houses? One journalist 
noted that the Christians and the lions had also packed them in at 
the Roman circus. 

Manville, Tommy (1895-1967) 


Heir to the Johns-Manville asbestos fortune, Thomas Franklyn 
Manville, better known as Tommy Manville, became America s con 
stant bridegroom, as he ran through 1 1 wives in 13 marriages he 
remarried twice. There is no evidence he did anything else of a 
worthwhile nature during his lifetime. 

Truly erratic and proud of his record of collecting blonde 
wives, Manville was the darling of the Sunday supplements. In 
1936, a story under his byline appeared in the American Weekly when 
he was temporarily unattached in which he predicted he d soon 
marry another blonde almost any blonde. 

The next year he took full-page advertisements in New York 
newspapers, publicly seeking a new attorney to represent him in his 

278 Manviile, Tommy 

marital disputes. He later erected a sign at the entrance of his 
mansion, which read: 


Manville was 17 years old in June 1911, when he met a chorus 
girl named Florence Huber under a Broadway marquee. They were 
married five days later. Tommy s father, traveling from Europe to 
the United States, announced he would have the match annulled 
when he got to New York. 

Tommy immediately arranged a second wedding ceremony in 
New Jersey, tried to have another in Maryland, and said he would, 
if need be, remarry his bride in as many of the remaining states as 
need be. When his father cut him off from family funds, Tommy 
took a $15-a- week job, for the first and last time doing anything 

That he was launching on a bridegroom career was not readily 
apparent, since that first marriage lasted 1 1 years. In September 
1925, Tommy took his father s 22-year-old stenographer, Lois Ar- 

Asbestos heir Tommy Manville, here with his llth and final bride, Christina Erdlin, 
refuted the theory that blondes have more ftm. (Wide World) 

Manville, Tommy 279 

line McCoin, as his second wife. The next month his father died 
and left him about $10 million of a $50 million estate. 

Now Tommy was in business. His second wife charged him with 
desertion in 1926 and won a settlement of $19,000 a year. By this 
time Manville was describing himself to the press as "a retired busi 
nessman." He was not however retired from matrimony. 

The rest of his marriage slate went as follows: 

#3. Follies girl Avonne Taylor in May 193L Her third mar 
riage. They separated after 34 days. 

#4. Marcelle Edwards, a showgirl, in October 1933. They di 
vorced in 1937, with Marcelle getting a $200,000 settlement. 

#5. Twenty- two-year-old showgirl Bonita Edwards in Novem 
ber 1941. They were divorced three months later. 

#6. Wilhelmina Connelly (Billy) Boze, a 20-year-old actress in 
October 1942. They divorced in February 1943, and, a rarity 
among the Manville wives, she refused to take any money in settle 

#7. Macie Marie (Sunny) Ainsworth in August 1943. She had 
been married four times before she was 20. They separated after 
eight hours and were divorced in October. 

#8. British-born Georgina Campbell in December 1945. She 
was 27 and Manville was 50. They were already separated when 
Georgina was killed in an automobile collision in 1952. 

#9. Anita Frances Roddy-Eden in July 1952. She obtained a 
Mexican divorce in August. 

#10. Twenty-six-year-old Pat Gaston. They were married in 
May 1957 and divorced the following November. 

#11. Christina Erdien, who was 20 when they married in 1960. 
This marriage finally took, and she was at his bedside when he died 
October 8, 1967. 

A newspaper reporter once asked Tommy Manville if it was 
true that blondes have more fun. "No," Tommy replied. 7 have 
more fun." 

All through the years Manville had maintained a bequest of 
$50,000 in his will for his first wife. However, not long before he 
died, Manville had cancelled it. 

280 Sidis, William James 

6ick William Jamea (1896-1944) 

He was recognized as the most accomplished child prodigy of his 
era; aspiring parents sought to have their own offspring emulate 
his example. He was also sadly warped by his conditioning. At the 
age of four in 1902, two years after his father had given him alpha 
bet blocks, William James Sidis was typing in English and French. 
At five he had worked out a formula by which he could instantly 
name the day of the week for any date in history. At six his teacher 
admitted she could not keep up with his mathematical theories. At 
nine he completed his first year of high school and applied for 
admission to Harvard. He was rejected, not for lack of scholarship 
but because it was believed he was too emotionally immature for 
college life. He was accepted when he was 11. 

Probably more than any child ever, Sidis was a creation of his 
parents. His mother was a Russian-born physician and his father, 
also Russian-born, was Boris Sidis, a Harvard professor of abnor 
mal psychology. Dr. Sidis pet theory was that geniuses were not 
born but made, and he was determined to demonstrate that fact 
with his son, starting to mold him into a genius while he was still in 
his cradle. He said that if parents encouraged a babe s intellectual 
curiosity, he would tend to learn faster than a jack rabbit runs. 

By young Sidis freshman year at Harvard, he certainly seemed 
to have borne out his father s theory of intellectual force-feeding. 
As a freshman Sidis proceeded to deliver a lecture on the fourth 
dimension that even most of his professors probably did not grasp. 
Then at the age of 12, he suffered a nervous breakdown. After 
being treated at his father s sanitorium in New Hampshire, he re 
turned to his studies, and at 16 he graduated cum laude. After that 
he breezed through law school and taught for a short time at Rice 
Institute. Then suddenly he quit. Some time before that he had 
told the press, "I want to live the perfect life. The only way to live 
the perfect life is to live it in seclusion." What Sidis was saying 
especially was that he wanted nothing to do with his parents, whom 
he had grown to despise for the pressure they had put on him. 

He took menial jobs and became an ardent Marxist, joining 
both the Socialist and Communist parties. In 1919 he was convicted 
in Roxbury, Massachusetts, of shouting during a May Day rally, "To 
hell with the American flag." He was sentenced to 18 months in 

Sidis, William James 28 1 

prison but he appealed his conviction and eventually the charge was 

Shortly thereafter Sidis moved to New York City, where he 
worked as an adding machine operator. Physically not attractive 
and ponderous of movement, he was regarded by co-workers as 
something of a freak. Office girls wrinkled their noses and opined 
he could use more frequent baths. Sidis couldn t care less, desiring 
only to be left alone. When a friend informed him his father had 
died, Sidis berated him for bothering him with such trivialities. 

Sidis put away all his interests in intellectual and scientific pur 
suits, developing a passion for collecting streetcar transfers. He 
wrote and published a book on the delights of his hobby, calling it 
Notes on the Collection of Transfers. 

In 1937 the New Yorker located him working in obscurity in a 
Boston office and resurrected the story of the man who was an 
eccentric genius. Sidis took such offense at that description that he 
filed suit against the publication, charging libel and invasion of 
privacy. After some court decisions that the public s right to know 
about the fate of a child prodigy exceeded Sidis rights to privacy, 
the case was settled out of court. 

In 1944 Sidis died of an inner cranial hemorrhage at the age 
of 46. It was left to Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman who 
conducted a study of 1,400 precocious children in the 1920s and 
found almost all of them to have achieved success and happiness 
far above the average to provide a sort of epitaph. "Sidis case was 
a rare exception. I think the boy was largely ruined by his father, 
giving him so much bad publicity. The Quiz Kids radio program 
has done a lot to dispel the popular notion that gifted children are 

282 West. James Marion, Jr. 

West James Marion, Jr. (1903-1957) 

Even for a multimillionaire oil-man, James Marion West, Jr., was a 
mite bizarre. In fact, it may be said that he did more to establish 
the stereotype of what a Texas oil-man is like than any of his free- 
spending, wild-living contemporaries. He gained the nickname of 
"Silver Dollar" West because of his habit of dispensing such coins 
to kids, pedestrians, waitresses, and whomever else struck his fancy. 

The story was told that when he had completed building his 
River Oak Boulevard mansion in Houston, he inspected his six-car 
garage and found only five pairs of fins protruding from the stalls. 
"Buy me another Cadillac immediately to fill that hole," he snapped 
to his secretary. The story is probably apocryphal. He owned 40 

While he inherited a great fortune and multiplied it through 
shrewd investment and enterprise in oil, cattle, and lumber, making 
money was not a particularly high priority with West. A magazine 
once ran a story about him entitled "How to Have Fun with 100 
Million Dollars." West s true passions in life were (not necessarily in 
order of preference) butter, silver dollars, Cadillacs, firearms, and 
crime fighting. 

He lived, with his Cadillacs, in a $500,000 castle, and went 
about Stetson-hatted and cowboy-booted, wearing a diamond- 
encrusted Texas Ranger badge. One of his main methods of having 
fun was to scatter rolls of silver dollars in the street and watch 
people scamper after them. Dining in a restaurant, West brought 
along a vat of butter churned on his own farm and if the establish 
ment s service pleased him, he tipped the waitress with a stack of 
80 silver dollars. 

Obsessed with the crime problem, West was a close friend of 
scores of Texas policemen and law enforcement officers; an insom 
niac, he rode the streets of Houston with a police officer at his side 
in one of his radio-equipped Caddies. The Houston police, with a 
certain reputation of their own for unconventional behavior, fur 
nished him with a uniformed partner, Lieutenant A. C, Martindale. 
It was never too clear what the lieutenant s exact duties were to 
assist West in the administering of his duties or to keep him from 
going hog wild. In any event, so the story goes, Martindale ended 
up taking a shot in the foot when West, forever fast on the trigger, 
cut loose at a fleeing bandit* 

Slattery, Jimmy 283 

West s crime-fighting Caddy could better be described as a 
fortress on wheels, sporting among other items in its arsenal a 30- 
30 carbine, a shotgun, a Tommy gun, and a goodly supply of tear 
gas. Naturally, West did not go about his appointed rounds without 
at least one .45-caliber pistol strapped to his hip. 

West could chortle at making kids scramble in chase of his pieces 
of silver, but he could not bear up well as the butt of humor. One 
Halloween night a group of costumed trick-or-treaters surrounded 
his automotive arsenal and rocked it violently, demanding a tribute 
in silver dollars. West s answer was to loose a cannister of tear gas 
in their midst and send them off sobbing. West thought it humorous 
but the children s parents did not. Some newspapers even raised 
the suggestion that perhaps the time had come to fence in the self- 
appointed minion of the law. West was outraged. As he once put it, 
"The press has always had fun at my expense." 

West was hardly socially perceptive enough to understand that 
the harsh criticism of him represented a city coming culturally of 
age. Nor was he amused when a journalist stated after an interview 
with him that he was overwhelmed with a "perfectly preposterous 
emotion. ... I was feeling sorry for a hundred million dollars." 

When Silver Dollar West cashed in his chips in December 1957, 
there were those who observed that at last the days of the frontier 
were over. 

flattery, Jimmy (1904-1960) 


The folklore of boxing has many candidates for the wildest man of 
the ring, the erratic if not punch-drunk fighter, the battler who 
went from the Garden to the gutter. There is no doubt that boxing s 
number-one nutball was an idol of the Golden Twenties, a fighting 
machine named Jimmy Slattery. 

There are many who considered him, as did Gene Tunney, to 
be the greatest natural boxer of modern times. Gentleman Jim 
Corbett paid Slats the high compliment of never missing a Slattery 

284 Slattery, Jimmy 

bout. Sportswriters commented that this was because Corbett saw 
his own greatness mirrored in the lean Irishman out of Buffalo, 
New York. But if there were those who called him "the greatest 
fighter who ever lived," there were even more who regarded him 
"the greatest liver who ever fought." 

Out of 122 fights, he lost only 12 and won the light-heavy 
weight championship. Everyone agreed he would have reigned 
longer and lost far fewer fights had he not combined the elbow- 
bending talents of John L. Sullivan with the delicate accomplish 
ments of Casanova. 

In Buffalo he became a local god when he outpointed Young 
Stribling shortly before he went on to New York and the big time. 
There he astonished boxing men and sportswriters by toying with 
tough Jack Delaney. They watched in awe as this handsome Irish 
kid, with his black hair gleaming under the ring lights like patent 
leather, danced around Delaney. Delaney never so much as mussed 
Slats* hair. The fight was limited to six rounds because of 20-year- 
old Slattery s tender years. At the time Slats was a model boy. He 
didn t smoke or drink. His mom sewed the first pair of green tights 
he wore in the ring. 

Some said that something about the Big Town got to Slats. 
Some said it was automobiles. Others liquor. Yet others insisted 

Jimmy Siatiery (second from left), a formidable presence in the ring, was given to 
frequent disappearing acts outside the arena. (Wide World) 

Slattery, Jimmy 285 

women were the bottom of Slats woes. There is much to be said 
for each school of thought. 

Slats certainly took to automobiles. He owned in succession a 
black Ford, a blue Dort, a blue Hudson, a green Cadillac, a yellow 
Lincoln, a green Lincoln, three more Lincolns of varying hues, 
another Ford and a red Cadillac sedan. 

Once, wearing a sweatshirt after jogging through Manhattan 
streets, Slats entered an auto salesroom and asked a snooty sales 
man the price of a gleaming model. The salesman quoted a price 
tag of $5,200, then walked off with a disdainful air. Slats immedi 
ately peeled $5,200 from a roll he carried and bought the car from 
another salesman. Reminded by a friend that he had just bought a 
car, Slats said, "I know, but I didn t like the way the guy acted." 

Slats asked only one thing from his cars, that they go fast. His 
greatest nemeses, in order, were telephone poles and traffic cops. 
There is no record of him ever hitting the latter, but if a motorcycle 
cop stopped him for speeding, the ever-mirthful Slats would fre 
quently steal the cop s motorcycle for a fast getaway. 

Slats also had a fondness for taxicabs. After one fight at Madi 
son Square Garden he stepped out to the street and hailed a cab 
for a 300-mile ride to the Adirondacks. Slats was always on the go 
like that. Once he and manager Red Carr arrived in New York to 
take in the Sharkey-Maloney bout, and Slats said he was leaving 
their hotel to buy a straw hat. He returned three days after the 
fight, by which time the frantic Carr had given the police a missing- 
persons notice and enlisted the personal assistance of Mayor Jimmy 
Walker. He strongly suspected his fighter had been kidnapped. 
Asked where he d been, Slats said vaguely, "Just around." He didn t 
even have a straw hat. 

On another occasion Slats disappeared five days before an im 
portant bout. Then Carr got a wire from the police chief of Elkhart, 
Indiana. Slats had been arrested as a vagrant after being caught 
riding the freights with some newfound friends. He also had a case 
of blood poisoning in his toe. He hadn t the vaguest idea how that 
had happened. 

On a European jaunt Slats turned up missing in Venice. His 
companions were about to have the canals dragged when he turned 
up, drifting aimlessly in a stolen gondola. Well, not aimlessly: he 
had a lady friend along. 

There is no doubt that if Slats had trained, he would have been 
the leading fighter of the twenties and thirties. Once, for a bout 
with James J. Braddock in 1929, Slats vowed to stay in training and 
did so for four whole days. On the fifth he was riding down the 

286 Slaitery, Jimmy 

Great White Way on top of taxis, drinking champagne. What was 
amazing is that he still held the tough Braddock dead even for nine 
rounds until put down by a haymaker. 

One thing Slats never wondered about was what that paper 
stuff was that flew through his fingers. He spent money on cars, on 
women, on clothes, on tips, for moochers, for a general good time. 
He earned and hurled away $438,000, dollars of the kind that 
conservatively are estimated to be worth ten times that amount 
today. His oft-stated credo was, "What the hell, Jack." 

He fought three memorable fights with Slapsie Maxie Rosen- 
bloom, winning two of them, a triumph of Buffalo beer over Brook 
lyn brew. Rosenbloom of course cultivated his image as a ring 
eccentric in a later show-business career, but between the two, Slats 
came out way ahead in the mad-behavior department. 

Slats was the scourge of the physicians charged with examining 
fighters at weigh-ins. Told to cough, Slats had the terrifying habit 
of clutching suddenly at certain portions of the doctor s anatomy 
and declaring they would cough in unison or not at all One physi 
cian never examined Slats without first fully protecting himself. 

By the time he was 28, Slats was washed up as a fighter. Five 
years later he was back in Buffalo, working on the WPA. He had 
lost the home he had built for his mother and was flat broke. By the 
time he was 33, his father, mother, two brothers, and a sister were 
dead. People said that was why Slats went roaring through the city 
every payday. He was trying to forget. 

Still, having gone from riches to rags, he hadn t changed. He 
still loved riding cabs but often had a bit of trouble paying for them. 
And he still took to disappearing. At work his foreman asked him 
to buy him some cigars, so Slats roared away in a power truck and 
came back the next day. 

A lesser personage could be fired for such indiscretions, but 
not Buffalo s Slattery. Later Slats health deteriorated, and he 
moved for a time to the drier climate of Arizona. When his funds 
ran out, his old friends, and even many of the moochers who had 
clung to him in his heyday, raised $10,000 to pay his medical 

Slats died in a modest hotel room in Buffalo in 1960. He was 
56. To the end he maintained the Slattery philosophy about what 
might have been. "Suppose I had invested my money?" he told an 
interviewer. Td only have lost it in the crash, wouldn t I? I had a 
hell of a good time. What the hell, Jack," 

Brach, Helen 287 

5rach, Helen (1911-?) 


Soon after candy company founder Frank Brach met and married 
hatcheck girl Helen Vorhees in 1952, the millionaire and his wife 
turned into a reclusive couple, almost never socializing. This was 
quite a change, at least for the gregarious millionaire. Clearly, it was 
Helen s decision. Chicago society whispered that Helen, who came 
from a long line of postal employees, was fearful of rebuffs in social 

The Brachs did not even associate with their neighbors in ex 
clusive Glenview, Illinois, where they lived in a stone mansion on 
seven wooded acres. "She would wave when she went by in one of 
her [five] pink cars," a neighbor said. "And that was all." 

Brach died in 1970 at the age of 80, and nothing much 
changed for Helen, who inherited $21 million. Her life continued 
as before, except that she became, if anything, more eccentric. An 
employee once said she would rather eat carryout chicken than dine 
in a fancy restaurant. As was the case when Brach was alive, Helen 
gave no parties. Her main interest was psychic phenomena. She 
consulted a card-reading fortune-teller by phone almost daily, and 
she produced a drawerful of psychic writings while in an trancelike 
state. Suspicious of most people, Helen preferred the companion 
ship of her nine thoroughbred horses and her mongrel dogs 
Candy, Luvey, Tinkerbelle, and Beauty to whom she fed filet mi- 
gnon. She once chartered a plane from the Bahamas to be at a 
dying dog s bedside. 

Then in 1977 the calls to the fortune-teller stopped. After a 
visit to Minnesota s Mayo Clinic, she just disappeared. According to 
her chauffeur, he drove her to Chicago s O Hare Airport for a 
vacation in Florida. She never turned up there. Police searched her 
estates, as well as a farm in Illinois and a summer home in Ohio, all 
to no avail. There were no clues. 

There was just a hole in the life of Helen Brach. So far as 
anyone knew, she had no close friends, no place to hide. There was 
no indication that she vanished with any of her funds. The crypt 
she had designed and built for herself it looks like a candy box- 
still lies empty in Unionport, Ohio. 

"She had total privacy before," one investigator was quoted as 
saying. "She has even more now." Hampering the police search for 

288 Wendel Sisters 

Helen was the fact that they did not even have any recent photo 
graphs of her. Helen refused to pose for many pictures and ap 
peared to have destroyed most of those that were taken. 

In 1984 the courts moved to find her legally dead, so that her 
estate could be distributed. Helen s will called for relatively small 
sums to go to her chauffeur and a brother, but well over $20 million 
was left to the Helen Brach Foundation she had organized to help 

Meanwhile, Everett Moore, the estate s administrator, has 
maintained Brach s house, grounds, horses, and financial affairs, as 
though the heiress were just on vacation. If Helen Brach comes 
home today, she can sit right down and catch up reading the back 
issues of Classic, her favorite horse magazine. 

Wendel <Mers (fl. 1914-1932) 


No family held to a life of miserliness with more determination 
than the Wendels, often described by journalists as New York s 
oddest millionaires. Individually, the six Wendel sisters may not 
have been any more odd than the likes of Hetty Green or the two 
Collyer brothers. But that does not alter the fact that, as a family 
grouping, they remain the most compleat recluses and misers in 
American history. 

The founder of the family in New York, in the late 18th cen 
tury, was a shrewd German immigrant, John Gottlieb Matthias 
Wendel, who married the sister of John Jacob Astor and was Astor s 
partner in amassing furs and lands. The grandson of the first Wen- 
dels, John Gottlieb Wendel, succeeded as head of the family upon 
the death of his father, John Daniel Wendel, in 1876. He far in 
creased the family s real estate holdings, becoming one of New 
York s biggest single landlords. 

Some have sought to impute eccentricity to this last of the male 
Wendels; but, without doubt, he was the epitome of the saying 
"crazy like a fox." To imply that there was anything bizarre in his 

Wendel Sisters 289 

behavior because of his oft-announced principle of "buy, but never 
sell New York real estate" flies in the face of one of the most suc 
cessful business techniques utilized during the past century to ac 
cumulate great wealth. When times were good, Wendel bought; 
when times were bad, Wendel bought. True, Wendel gained a mea 
sure of celebrity by his actions. Once he rejected an offer of $6 
million from real-estate promoters for the family mansion s court 
yard at 442 Fifth Avenue. He pointed out blandly that his sister 
Ella s white poodle needed the yard for exercise, making the little 
beast perhaps the most expensively maintained since Roman em 
peror Caligula s celebrated horse. 

Of course the tycoon was merely emphasizing his stand that 
Wendel land was not for sale under any circumstances. Other such 
tales abound about Wendel. Typical is the one about the broker who 
offered him prime real estate at the corner of Broadway and Lib 
erty Street where the future Westinghouse building would be 
b u ilt for a mere $750,000. Wendel disappeared and 15 minutes 
later was back counting out the full purchase price in cash. When 
the broker protested at the thought of having to carry such a huge 
amount on his person, Wendel snapped, "Young man, the Wendel 
terms are cash, nothing but hard cash/ The broker swallowed hard 
and went on with the deal. 

No doubt, by conventional standards Wendel was on the odd 
side. However he was a man of the world, an expert horseman, a 
hunter, a deep-sea fisherman, and certainly an immensely cultured 
person, often writing dinner invitations in Latin. He may be said to 
have aged cantankerously; in later years he carried an umbrella 
every day, rain or shine. But eccentricity truly ran amok in the 
Wendel family among John s six sisters, the Misses Wendel, as they 
were listed in 1897 in the Elite Directory, a forerunner of the Social 
Register. They were noted as being domiciled at 442 Fifth Avenue 
at Thirty-ninth Street. Thereafter there was only silence from the 
organs of society, despite the fact that the Wendel wealth at the time 
approached some $75 million. 

Papa Wendel had always warned the girls against fortune hunt 
ers, and their brother diligently attempted to see that they obeyed 
their father s edict, so that there would never be any dissipation of 
the estate via romance or marriage. The relatively worldly younger 
male Wendel so dominated the sisters that he kept five of them 
forever unmarried, virtual prisoners in the house for decades. 

There was Henrietta Dorothea, the oldest, who was the first to 
die; Mary Eliza Astor, known as Ella, who lived long but achieved 
little distinction other than as a proud owner of poodles; Auguste 

290 Wendel Sisters 

Antonia, destined to spend many years in a Pennsylvania asylum; 
and Josephine Jane, poor Josie, the sweetest of the girls, who so 
wanted children but ended up in a lonely room, with dream chil 
dren playing around her. Then there were two other sisters, more 
vital than the others: Rebecca Antoinette Dew Miss Becky the 
best looking of them all, and the one who broke out and married, 
albeit at the age of 60, to Luther A, Swope, who had tutored the 
children of the Four Hundred; and finally Georgiana Geisse 
Reid Miss Georgie the most strong willed of the sisters, and the 
one most likely to stand up to her brother Unfortunately she had 
an unsound mind that dominated her actions more and more as 
time went by, 

Much of the public s disaffection for John Gottlieb Wendel 
stemmed from its belief in Miss Georgie s frequent cries of perse 
cution. Most of her claims, as it turned out, sprang from her own 
increasingly neurotic hallucinations. Before her death in 1929, it 
was thought she was living somewhere in the many rooms of the 
mansion. Actually she had been locked away in a suburban mental 
institution for almost 20 years. 

Was Wendel a monster to his sisters? The fact was that, when he 
died in California at the age of 79 in 1914, all the titles to the 
Wendel properties, then valued at $80 million, were solely in his 
name. But that may well have been because he thought little of the 
girls intellects, that he did not wish to allow them any money out 
of fear of fortune hunters. That he was zany about frugality can 
hardly be argued. He dictated their wardrobes, which consisted of 
the round sailor hats popular in the 1860s and 1870s, and decreed 
they wear old-fashioned, full-skirted black dresses which they made 
themselves without the aid of such newfangled contraptions as sew 
ing machines. 

With Wendel s death, the Misses Wendel could not be said to 
have broken loose from their yoke of oppression. They remained 
in their now-seedy mansion, with its tattered window curtains keep 
ing out the stares of the curious. Where once hundreds of gaslights 
shone on a wealth of treasures, only a few now lighted the scene or 
showed off the hand-carved grand staircase of natural oak. It has 
been speculated that the Wendel mansion s forlorn desolation 
might have provided Charles Addams with the inspiration for his 
grotesque caricatures. Like the Collyer brothers, the Misses Wendel 
were besieged by newspaper reporters seeking to crack their deter 
mined wall of seclusion. It was not an easy task; reporters found 
the door bell offered them no entree since, as one journalist stated, 
it "hadn t been connected since Dewey took Manila." 

Wendel Sisters 291 

The newspapers, which had for years labeled the male Wendel 
a "monster," suddenly discovered virtues in him that did not exist 
in Miss Becky, who took over the administration of the family es 
tates. It turned out that John Wendel had contributed the free use 
of a flower garden on a lot at Seventh Avenue and Thirty-eighth 
Street, and had also walled off a tract of land on West Broadway 
for a playground for tenement children. Miss Becky canceled out 
such "foolish generosity" forthwith. There is every indication that 
she reined in her sisters more harshly than ever before. Family 
servants who considered granting an interview to lady journalists 
quickly repented in fear of being fired by Miss Becky. 

By this time the Wendel estate was worth about $100 million, 
but Miss Becky held to the Wendel no-selling policy, especially of 
the courtyard kept for Miss Ella s pet, Tobey, which by the 1920s 
was the third poodle of the same name. Enterprising cameramen 
seeking photos of the Misses Wendel mounted cameras with tele 
scopic lenses in nearby office buildings but were rewarded with little 
more than Tobey lifting a leg in what was beyond a doubt the most 
expensive dog run in the world. 

The 1920s saw the deaths of all but two of the sisters. When 
Miss Becky died in 1930 at the age of 87, only Miss Ella was left. 
She lived alone, save for dutiful servants, in this midtown mauso 
leum. All the treasures of the mansion remained, although pipes 
had rusted, marble had cracked, and the upholstery was worn and 
torn. In the cellar, vintage wines, untouched since the late brother s 
day, had turned to vinegar. Tobey ate at a special dog table while 
his mistress ate silently at the long, otherwise empty banquet table. 
When the pair retired to an upstairs bedroom, Miss Ella slept in 
one twin bed and Tobey in an adjoining one. 

Extravagantly rich and horribly lonely, Miss Ella died in 1932. 
She departed this world, never having had a telephone, electricity, 
or an automobile, and the only dress she owned was one that she 
had made herself about 25 years earlier. 

John G, Wendel had left no will, because he "didn t want any 
lawyer making money out of the property," and now no less than 
2,303 "relatives" and other claimants swooped down to claim part 
of the Wendel millions. The most outspoken claimant among them 
was one Thomas Patrick Morris of Scotland, who said he was the 
illegitimate son of John G. 

The long court case concluded with Morris being convicted of 
false claims and being sentenced to prison. Finally, in 1939, the 
Wendel millions were ordered disposed of according to Miss Ella s 
will. As a fitting counter to many decades of Wendel greed, almost 

292 Bovar, Oric 

all the money was given to charity churches, missions, hospitals. 
A sum estimated to be $16 million went to Flower Memorial Hos 
pital, because sometime in the dim past a staffer there had minis 
tered to one of Miss Ella s Tobeys when no veterinarian was 
available. The sum certainly stands as the largest veterinary pay 
ment in history. 

Bovar, Oric (1917-1977) 


As a cult leader and mystic, Oric Bovar attracted some 200 devoted 
followers in New York and California in the 1970s. An apostle of 
clean living with strictures against drinking, smoking, drugs, and 
extramarital sex he attracted such show-business celebrities as 
Bernadette Peters and Carol Burnett. 

As one of his longtime adherents put it, "His advice had always 
been good and he had helped us so much before and we had come 
to trust him so much we just went along with him." 

The degree of control the charismatic Bovar exerted over his 
followers was striking. When a person came into a room, he might 
say to a woman follower, "This is your husband: you must marry 
him." And they usually did. In addition, Bovar maintained a strict 
prohibition against doctors, and several women had babies without 
consulting physicians. 

Oric Bovar was of course rather mad, a condition that became 
more evident in the early 1970s, when he suffered a breakdown. By 
the time he reappeared before his converts, he had changed from 
a slightly bloated-looking redhead to a skinny, white-haired man. 

At about this time he announced he was Jesus Christ; hence 
forth, Christmas was to be observed on August 29, his own birth 
day, instead of December 25. This more than anything else drove a 
number of adherents away, although a large group celebrated 
Christmas 1976 during the summer, as per his instructions. By this 
time Peters and Burnett had left him; those who remained devoted 
to Bovar broke off all friendships with the defectors. 

Bovar, Oric 293 

Charismatic cult leader Oric Bovar 
resurrected neither himseif nor his 
flagging flock. 

By autumn, in his increasing madness Bovar had announced 
that he had godly powers and could resurrect the dead. When New 
York Bovarite Stephanos Hatzitheodorou died of cancer, his death 
was not reported to authorities. Bovar and five of his flock a col 
lege criminal justice teacher, a writer, a Wall Street clerk, a railroad 
employee, and an Evelyn Wood speed-reading instructor stood 
vigil over the decomposing body in a New York City apartment for 
two months, chanting, "Rise, Stephan, rise." 

There is no telling how much longer they might have kept at it. 
In December, police, acting on a tip from a woman who identified 
herself as Mary Magdalene, raided the place. "I ve never seen any 
thing like it in my twenty years on the job," Detective Sergeant 
Raymond Treubert said, describing the scene in the seventeenth- 
floor apartment, where the corpse, covered with a shroud, lay on a 
bed surrounded by six chanting men. It was learned that Bovar 
had been paying the deceased s rent so that their religious efforts 
to raise the dead could continue without interference. 

Bovar and his followers were charged with failure to report a 
death and were scheduled to appear in court the following April to 

294 Dym, Rose 

answer the charge. On April 14, 1977, Bovar jumped to his death 
from his tenth-floor apartment window. It is not absolutely certain 
that it was suicide. Bovar had been reportedly assuring his dwin 
dling flock that he could jump out of a window and come back 
without dying. 

Dym, Dose (1917- 


Just as many a small town has acquiesced in the eccentricities of its 
village idiot, Manhattan for years put up with Rose Dym, a raucous, 
bedraggled female who made her rounds wearing a torn calico 
dress and scuffed red bedroom slippers. She became a world- 
famous celebrity as Broadway Rose. Tales about her made Broad 
way columns such as WinchelFs with regularity. 

Born Anna Dym, Rose was the exceedingly homely daughter 
of a Brooklyn pushcart peddler. She descended upon Broadway in 
1929, when she was 17. She hung around stage doors in quest of 
autographs, bowling her way through crowds to get to a star, Upset 
by her bulldozing methods, some celebrities tried to ignore her, a 
tactic that brought forth screeches and snarls. In time, in fact, she 
developed a knack for making such a pest of herself that people 
obliged her at whatever she asked. Soon she graduated from auto 
graphs to cash, in time eschewing coin for folding money only. 

Restaurant and nightclub doormen quaked at her approach 
upon their domain. Would she demand entrance? If so, dare they 
refuse? Eventually, the tack became to ignore her, "just like pim 
ples," one doorman explained, and hope she would go away. If she 
entered, it was every man for himself. Even ex-boxing champion 
Jack Dempsey fled in panic from his Broadway restaurant when she 
marched in to put the touch on customers. At the Stage Door 
Delicatessen, it could only be hoped a $10 bill from the head waiter 
would persuade her to go elsewhere. And it was even said that gang 
leader Lucky Luciano once had a bodyguard cut her off with money 
when he saw her approaching. 

Keys, John R. 295 

Eventually, it became the fashion for tourists to search for 
Broadway Rose as one of the shining lights of the Great White Way. 
Seeing her was one thing, but giving her money was another. She 
had prospered to such an extent that she could refuse a donation 
from the unheralded with a sneer. "Go get yourself a reputation, 
jerk, before I ll take your scratch," she d say. 

Eventually in the post-World War II era, Broadway started 
losing much of its glitter and glamor, and even Broadway Rose was 
gone, fading into a much deserved obscurity. 

Keys, Jok Q. (?-1943) 


A lifelong Philadelphian, John R. Keys must stand as one of the 
greatest, if now unsung, American misers. Through the 1920s, 
thirties, and early forties, he boasted to friends that he could and 
did live on $1.27 a week. That was quite an accomplishment even 
in the Depression years, when butter was only 37 cents a pound, 
cheese 23 cents a pound, and coffee 18 cents a pound. But Keys 
did it, working at odd menial jobs always within walking distance 
from his home, so that he could save on transportation. 

In the early 1940s, Keys decided it was time for him to retire 
to warmer climes, and he moved to Hawaii, working for his passage 
aboard a freighter. In Honolulu, Keys became a sort of elderly 
beach bum, surviving on bread, cheese, milk, and an abundant 
supply of pineapples. The record does not show if he continued to 
hold to his $1.27-a-week upkeep, but there is no reason to suspect 
otherwise. Certainly his estate indicated, when he died, that he 
never spent a penny too much for anything. A search of his quar 
ters by authorities found bank notes, bonds, and other securities 
worth some $800,000. 

296 Herzog, Helene and Beatrice 

Heraog, Helene (?-1945) 
and Beatrice (9-1934) 


Crime, or at least the fear of it, experts tell us, is changing the way 
of urban life in America in the late 20th century. People who pre 
viously were night people now stay at home, ceasing to eat out, go 
to the theater, or even visit friends. Many of us are becoming, it is 
said, "behavioral recluses." 

However, much as we may regard the past as the Good Old 
Days, things have not really changed; "drop outs" from crime were 
always with us. Easily two of the most bizarre of these in the 1920s 
were the sisters Herzog Beatrice and Helene who in 1927 en 
sconced themselves in the Le Marquis, a New York hotel in what 
was then still the ritzy East Thirties. They had been living at the 
Park Avenue Hotel with their mother the two years previous to their 
move, until the old woman died. They then decided to take rooms 
at the Le Marquis, where they would be within sight of their brown- 
stone home, diagonally opposite, on the next block at 45 East 
Thirty-first Street. 

On registering, the sisters did not say much to the manager, 
although Helene did point out the brownstone front and say, 
"That s our family home. Burglars drove us from it." 

As he escorted the ladies to their second-floor suite, the man 
ager, making small talk, asked them if they had notified the police 
that their house had been burglarized. The inquiry was met with 
icy stares. 

If the manager thought the ladies a bit odd, he had to admit 
they added a touch of old-fashioned elegance to the hotel, with 
their long skirts, tightly fitted bodices and jackets, and plumed hats. 
They paid for the first week s rent of $5 a day for a bedroom, living 
room, and bath with a $50 bill. The manager noted the bill had a 
musty smell to it. So did the others, as the sisters paid their rent 
promptly each week. 

Within a short time, the sisters telephoned the desk and an 
nounced they had decided to say on indefinitely. They rented the 
next suite as storage for all their trunks. They also wanted their 
piano, which was still in their home across the street. The manager 
came to their door with a lease to be signed. Helene Herzog was 

Herzog, Helene and Beatrice 297 

appalled. She stepped out to the hallway. <4 No gentleman/* she an 
nounced rather cuttingly, "ever enters a lady s room." 

This was true not only for the manager but for the bell captain, 
Billy Curley, who brought up the ladies food from the hotel restau 
rant, an establishment the Herzogs never entered. He would leave 
the trays outside the door and come back in an hour to retrieve 
them, after the sisters had eaten. 

News was received often about the Herzog mansion. Police 
constandy investigated the building, which was robbed regularly 
until all the furniture had been stolen. Vandals broke every window. 
Once the police responded to an intruder alarm, and the burglar 
fled just ahead of them, leaving the floor littered with, of all things, 
Spanish doubloons. The Herzog sisters could have had the dou 
bloons simply for the claiming, but they never did so. They also 
never paid any more taxes on die property. Eventually the city took 
it over and it was torn down. 

James Birch, the manager of the Corn Exchange Bank at 
Fourth Avenue and Twenty-ninth Street, advised the sisters on fi 
nancial matters. He tried to get them to reclaim their house. They 
refused, informing him their life-style was their own business. The 
bank had charge of the sister s affairs, including their inheritance 
of their father s estate. The father, Philip Herzog, was a pioneer 
radio and camera inventor, who had retired a millionaire. 

The sisters and their mother had lived in the mansion after 
Herzog died until burglars broke into the house. That frightening 
event sent the three of them to live in the Park Avenue Hotel and 
later, the two sisters had fled to the Le Marquis. 

Birch knew why the sisters always paid their rent in cash. They 
had a terrible time writing checks. Once, while the mother was alive, 
they had written checks and lost quite a bit of money in some kind 
of transaction. Thereafter they only signed anything under the 
direst of circumstances. 

Over the succeeding years, manager Birch saw the Herzogs 
only on rare occasions when they wandered out of their hotel ref 
uge, bewigged and out of date, counterparts of Charles Dickens- 
style recluses. These occasions were only when they needed money 
and their signatures were required to sign some stocks so they could 
be sold. 

After the market crash of 1929 the sisters went on the same as 
before. They continued to pay their rent regularly and tipped the 
bell captain generously for his services. They still appeared to be 
very rich; certainly no one had reason to doubt that was the case. 

298 Herzog, Helene and Beatrice 

Then in 1934 Beatrice died. A coachman from the days when 
the Herzogs lived in their mansion canie for the coffin. No one in 
the hotel knew where the burial was. Helene never stirred from her 

Helene lived another 11 years. Often the bell captain heard 
nothing from her room, and other times he d hear Helene sitting 
at the piano, banging out Spanish tunes on her old grand for hours 
on end. Sometimes the door was open for ventilation purposes and 
the captain caught a glimpse of Helene in a Spanish lace evening 
gown, the kind popular a half-century earlier. 

In 1945 Helene was found near death. She hadn t picked up 
her food tray. A carpenter had to take the door off the hinges so 
hotel employees could enter. Helene lay in bed, in a black lace dress, 
an artificial red rose in her black wig. She had pneumonia. 

At the time of her death Helene was behind in her rent some 
$1,800. The hotel owners had not had the heart to evict her. They 
found no will, no written documents, her bank accounts were long 
closed. All that was left of the Herzog inheritance was Helene s 
possessions some moth-eaten furs and gowns dating back 50 years 
or so, 22 suitcases, 16 trunks, 20 clocks, two pianos, and dozens of 

The hotel did not know where to bury her. Management had 
no idea where Beatrice Herzog had been interred. Helene was 
saved from a pauper s grave only because the hotel s owner paid for 
one in Silver Mound Cemetery on Staten Island. 

Some half-dozen years after Helene s death, an enterprising 
reporter discovered her sister Beatrice s burial place. It was in 
Woodlawn Cemetery in the Herzog family plot. Mr. and Mrs. Her 
zog were buried there, as was Felix Herzog, their son, and Beatrice. 
There was yet room for two more interments but Miss Helene had 
left no record of the family plot. She had cut herself off from the 
family mansion years before and in death, undoubtedly inadver 
tently, she had deprived herself of a final resting place with her 
family. She remained buried alone in an untended grave on Staten 

Demara, Ferdinand Waldo, Jr. 299 

Demara, Ferdinand Waldo, Jr. (1921-1982) 

Ferdinand Waldo Demara, Jr., was without doubt the busiest impos 
tor in 20th-century America. He was also surely the most skilled; 
he carried off hoaxes that fooled so many experts in so many fields 
that some observers saw in him the Renaissance Man reborn, a man 
capable of teaching himself advanced concepts so well that he was 
readily accepted as a brilliant scholar in whatever field he chose. 

Demara clearly suffered from a compulsion to impersonate 
people, but he never picked easy shots for himself, preferring to 
fool the establishment with sweeping flourishes. When he was a 
doctor a lush field for impostors he did not limit himself to a 
cautious practice but engaged in surgery, very successful surgery at 

Demara was in fact a high school dropout. Bored with the idea 
of a conventional existence, he was a young man in a hurry, and he 
needed no degree or certificate to master his chosen calling. In his 
twenties and thirties, despite a youthful crewcut appearance, he was 
able to palm himself off as, among other things, a doctor of philos 
ophy teaching college psychology courses, a zoologist, a Trappist 
monk serving in a Kentucky monastery, a biologist involved in can 
cer research, a law student, a deputy sheriff, a hospital orderly, a 
guidance counselor in a Texas maximum-security prison, a soldier, 
and a sailor. 

He was most skillful at forging documents of accreditation, 
giving references with post office box addresses. He then answered 
the inquiries with glowing tributes to himself on official-looking 
letterheads. But more importantly, he seemed eminently qualified 
for the positions he applied for, because of his great acting ability 
and intensive study of the subject matter involved. Degrees and 
certifications, Demara proved, were of secondary importance. 

Perhaps Demara s crowning impersonation occurred during 
the Korean War. Masquerading as a lieutenant-surgeon in the Ca 
nadian Navy, he performed a number of major operations under 
severe battle conditions. Faced with the varied problems of pulling 
teeth, removing tonsils, or amputating limbs aboard ship, Demara 
simply retreated to his quarters and boned up on the area in ques 
tion, hurriedly reading the medical texts. His most astonishing op 
eration involved successfully removing a bullet from within a 

300 Demara, Ferdinand Waldo, Jr. 

Fred Demara proved so charming an imposter that Hollywood not only filmed his life 
story, but also cast him in a minor epic called The Hypnotic Eye, in which he played the 
doctor (one of his favorite real-life roles). (Wide World) 

fraction of an inch of a soldier s heart. Those who assisted or ob 
served the operation gave a cheer when he completed the harrow 
ing operation. Despite being officially unqualified for his position, 
Demara never lost a patient. Undoubtedly he saved several lives. 

Unfortunately for Demara, it was his very success that led to 
him being unmasked. News stories about his amazing medical ex 
ploits were wired back to Canada, where someone started checking 
on his bogus identity. When it was determined that Demara was an 
impostor, he was ordered back to Canada, drummed out of the 
navy, and given all pay due him. The authorities merely assumed 
he had enlisted under a false name. No one thought he was not a 

Almost invariably, whenever Demara was exposed as a fraud, 
he was banished with considerable regret by his victims. The Trap- 
pisi monks hated to see such a dependable individual leave their 
monastery, and Texas prison officials felt they would never find 
another expert who would so earn the respect of the convicts. 

In 1956 Demara was unmasked posing as an accredited 
teacher in Maine the siren call of academia was a, particular weak- 

The Romero femily SO I 

ness of his and he was jailed for a few months for "cheating by 
false premises." The longest sentence he ever got was a year and a 
half, and his exploits brought him national fame in the form of a 
book on his life, or many lives. In the Hollywood film about him, 
he was portrayed by Tony Curtis. Demara was frequently asked to 
explain his odd compulsion. His answer: "Rascality, pure rascality." 
When Ferdinand Demara died in 1982, he had been unheard 
from since the 1960s which meant either he had reformed or had 
become more adept at his great impersonations. 

The Romero Family (//. 1924 -late 1950s) 


The hotels of New York City hold their share of recluses. They are 
of a different cloth than house recluses such as the Collyer brothers, 
who could slip in and out of their mansion under the protective 
cover of darkness. Not so in a hotel. It is impossible to leave without 
being seen by elevator operators, doormen, desk clerks, bellhops, 
and the like. 

Yet in another respect the hotel hermit enjoys a more favored 
sanctuary. If he can afford it, he need never leave his room or suite 
at all. Deliveries can take care of his needs. Groceries can be deliv 
ered, cooked meals requested, newspapers and prescriptions or 
dered all by telephone. There is no reason for the hotel hermit to 
wander beyond the safe confines of his or her residence. The Rom 
ero family thusly gained a journalistic reputation as the "Hermits 
of Dream Street." 

The Romeros Senor Jose Romero de Cainas, his wife Mi- 
chaela, and their 18-year-old daughter Acacia were sugar-planta 
tion-rich Cubans who settled on New York s West Forty-seventh 
Street in 1924. So secretive were they that their odd existence did 
not become general knowledge until 1942. That was possible on 
"Dream Street," the short block between Sixth and Seventh ave 
nues, so nicknamed by O. O. Mclntyre because it was, early in the 
century as it still is today, a favorite haunt of narcotics sellers. In 

302 The Romero Family 

the booming twenties, the bootleg and desperate thirties, and the 
wartime forties, it was easy to get lost in the melee of that bustling 

In the twenties, the Romeros ensconced themselves in a hotel 
called The America, when that establishment was in its better days. 
By World War II The America had changed considerably, by then 
housing a number of business women who used the premises for 
calls with passing clients. Not that the Romeros were particularly 
aware of the changes. They had, so far as could be determined, 
never so much as left their suite. The closest they seemed to come 
to the teeming humanity of Dream Street was when, occasionally, a 
lace curtain in a window parted slightly and an indistinguishable 
figure peered out. 

There was no need for the Romeros to leave their refuge. They 
were very rich, and each month money flowed to them from their 
plantation at Manzanillo. Money was supplied directly to the hotel 
each month, some to cover the rent and the balance for food, tips, 
and incidentals. 

Then one day in 1930 Sefior Jose developed pneumonia, and 
he died the following day. The female Romeros were pictures of 
grief. They knelt beside the dead man in a desperate effort to 
revive him. They refused to send for an undertaker. Only after the 
manager insisted he would have to call the police did they relent. 
Afterwards they closed their door on this intrusion of visitors and 
remained alone once more with their grief. 

Life, such as it was as far as the outside world was con 
cerned continued on in the same way. A news dealer on the 
corner sent up a copy of the Spanish language newspaper, La 
Prensa. The bell captain carried up an expensive black cigar and 
three table d hote dinners to the suite. When The America closed 
its dining room as part of its general decline, the bell captain trot 
ted over to the nearby Somerset Hotel to get the meals. 

Only occasionally did anyone get to enter the Romero suite. 
Once a plumber had to come in to repair a leak in the bathroom. 
The two women black-clad in mourning stood facing the wall 
the entire time he labored. 

Then in 1942, The America became the object of police raids; 
finally a major flush-out of prostitutes cleaned out every room in 
the place, save for the Romero suite. A representative from the 
Cuban consulate vouched to the police for the Romero women. 
They were, however, ordered to move by the Emigrant Savings 
Bank, the assignees of the raided property. The hotel was to be 

The Romero Family 303 

Edouard Portales of the Cuban consulate was resummoned to 
explain to the Romero women through their locked door. Unable 
to make headway, Portales explained he would have to send for 
Senor Juarez, their estate manager in Cuba. Together they tried to 
explain to the women, who insisted they could not leave. Such a 
move would confuse Senor Jose, they insisted. Did they really be 
lieve their husband and father was still alive, to return to them one 
day? Or were they using any argument to attempt to ward off the 
inevitable? The denizens of Dream Street waited impatiently for 
their departure, to catch a sight of the Romero women the first 
time they stepped out onto the street in 18 years. 

It never happened. 

One day the women were gone. They had taken up residence 
at the Hotel Ashley up the street, but they had never descended to 
the street. 

A newspaper reporter tried to find out how they had made the 
shift. A news dealer explained. "It was Juarez, from the plantation, 
and Portales from the consulate." The pair had convinced the 
women to go to the Ashley, and the women agreed only when they 
were told they could make the move over the roofs of buildings, the 
path being approved by the police. They occupied a seventh-floor 
suite in the Ashley, their luggage, two huge trunks, and numerous 
suitcases being transferred along the street by hand truck. 

Life went on for the Romero women as before. There were the 
same three meals sent up at regular hours, and the inevitable cigar, 

As late as the early 1950s the Romeros were still there. Acacia 
was in her late forties, and the mother in her eighties. At times they 
admitted an elderly Spanish doctor or Portales from the consulate 
or their plantation manager. Sometimes the two black-clad women 
walked the corridors of the seventh floor, turning their faces when 
ever other hotel guests passed them. Acacia sometimes called down 
to the bell captain, and he brought up some perfume or a box of 
chocolates. Sometimes she said a few words to him, explaining she 
had devoted her entire life to her mother, "She s been such a good 
mother. I am all she has left." 

She spoke of the beautiful home the family maintained in Ha 
vana, deserted all these years save for caretakers. "Someday I go 
back," Acacia said. 

Probably she never did. This was the 1950s, and the Castro 
revolution exploded in Cuba. The story of the Romeros ends here. 
Today no one on Dream Street knows what became of them. It is 
the complete hermit tale. They excluded society not only from their 
lives but from their ultimate fate. All we are left with are the tanta- 

304 West, Sandra Ikne 

Hzlng facts about their strange existence, and even those facts are 

True, they ordered three meals. Was one of them for the de 
parted Papa Jos? Or did they simply eat a lot? We do know that 
neither of them smoked the expensive black cigars. But the word 
from employees of the Ashley in the fifties was that even the cigar 
was not for Papa but rather for Mania Michaela s rheumatism. Aca 
cia would soak it in water and poultice her mother s leg with it. 
Eventually the cure lost its powers, and they stopped ordering the 

Thus a little mystery about the Romeros was answered, but 
their big secret remains unsolved. 

West, 6andra Ilene (1940-1977) 

During her brief but eventful life, Texas-born millionairess Sandra 
Ilene West had a love affair with automobiles; it was often said she 
would buy a flashy car on impulse as quickly as another might buy 
a box of chocolates. When she died in 1977, at the age of 37, she 
made it dear in her will she could not bear the thought of being 
separated from her favorite sportscar, a baby-blue Ferrari. She re 
quested she be buried "next to my husband ... in my Ferrari, with 
the seat slanted comfortably." 

Not surprisingly, her executors had their doubts about the le 
gality of her request, and West s body was stored in a San Antonio 
funeral parlor pending a court decision. Happily a California court 
ruled her request "unusual but not illegal" and released the Ferrari 
for shipment back to Texas. Mrs. West was duly interred in her car, 
wearing her favorite lace nightgown. To foil would-be vandals, West 
and the Ferrari were first placed in a wooden crate and then cov 
ered over with two truckloads of cement. 

Morris Pop Cora 305 

Morris Pop Corn (ft 195Qs-197Qs) 

Within the social circles of New York racetracks, few aficionados do 
not know Morris Pop Corn. Had he been born only slightly earlier 
he would no doubt have been immortalized by Damon Runyon. Few 
if any race-goers know him as anything other than Morris or more 
commonly Morris Pop Corn, a moniker hung on him some decades 
ago when a horse named Pop Corn was ridden in a race by that 
champion of jockeys, Eddie Arcaro, 

Jockeys generally become immune to the taunts of horseplay- 
ers, but it is doubtful if Arcaro was ever more irritated than by the 
grating taunts of Morris. Morris voice had a deep, guttural, East 
European accent, that summoned up all the agony of downtrodden 
peoples in a wail of protest, albeit a protest tinged with rebellion. 
On this particular afternoon at Belmont Race Track Morris became 
obsessed with the idea of a fixed race. Morris was in fact always 
obsessed with the idea of fixed races, but it was hardly likely in this 
race. Arcaro s mount, a rather dependable nag called Pop Corn, 
was seemingly a "lock," or sure winner. Pop Corn was bet down to 
one to five, meaning a gambler had to bet $2 to win 40 cents. 

Morris had been studying, and at times lecturing, his Morning 
Telegraph, that bible of the betting gentry and predecessor to the 
Daily Racing Form. He crumpled it up and stuffed it into his coat 
pocket as the horse started the parade to the post. 

"Goniffsr he yelled. "Goniffs, gvrtiffs, goniffs!" Gowffis the Yid 
dish word for crook or cheat. As Arcaro rode by Morris yelled, 
"Arcaro, you goniff, you are cheating the people! Pop Corn for 
the suckers." Then he turned to address the crowd at track level. 
"Do not bet on this cripple," he screamed. "This is a race to rob 
the public!" 

The race went off and, true to Morris words (at least to the 
extent that Pop Corn did not win), the heavy favorite ran out of the 
money. The crowd typically booed Arcaro on his return to the 
paddock. First and foremost of course was Morris, still screaming 
"Pop Corn for the suckers." Then he turned and looked up high in 
the stands to where the stewards were located, waved a fist, and 
screamed again, "Goniffs!" 

It was then that the Pinkerton security guards came along and 
ushered Morris out of the track. He was warned not to return until 
he could behave with the decorum befitting a horseplayer. 

306 Morris Pop Corn 

Morris came back, to be thrown out time and again. He would 
pore over his Tekgraph, mumbling to himself about the rank dishon 
esty all about him. Seldom did he appear to bet. Undoubtedly his 
disinclination was based on the horseplayer s timeworn belief that a 
bettor could not beat the races but he could beat a race. Morris 
clearly was a spot bettor. It is between Morris and the IRS if he ever 
came out ahead, but Morris Pop Corn was famed for being able to 
pick losers, usually favorites who did not win. He would rave about 
their presence in the race and insist it was part of a gigantic hoax 
on the part of the tracks to separate a horseplayer from his money. 

Tales are legion about other bettors trying to edge near Morris 
Pop Corn to hear his personal handicapping. Morris Pop Corn 
mumbled as he read his racing sheet, running through the poten 
tial of each horse, often casting aspersions on the creature s ances 
tors. Sometimes a bettor asked him outright about a nag s chances, 
but Morris continued his mumbling. When Morris Pop Corn hand 
icapped he w y as oblivious to the human race. 

One day a bookmaker arrived at the old Jamaica Race Track 
with $10,000 to "lay off" on a certain race. He had too much action 
on one horse and planned to bet it through the window to cut his 
potential losses if it won (and at the same time drive down the price 
he would have to pay out on the balance of the bets he had ac 
cepted). A crony informed him Morris Pop Corn was screaming the 
horse couldn t win. Now bookmakers generally are not betting 
men; rather they are bookkeepers who bring their action in line so 
that, no matter what the result is in any race, they end up making a 
bit more money than they lose. In this case however our bookie 
decided to tempt the fates. It was worth it since he had Morris Pop 
Corn on his side. 

It was a wise decision. The nag ran out of the money, allowing 
the bookie to pocket the $10,000. And Morris Pop Corn raced 
about denouncing the goniffs. 

Eventually poor Morris Pop Corn was dealt the cruelest of 
fates. The Pinks took his picture and conducted him off the prem 
ises. He was warned that he was banned from the racetrack for life. 
It was a sad spectacle to see Morris thereafter trying to enter the 
racetrack, sometimes with a hat pulled down over his eyes. Always 
he was denied entrance. 

For the true horseplayer, this was purgatory. Morris Pop Corn 
was seen from time to time marching along Broadway or Seventh 
Avenue in the New York garment district, forever studying his rac 
ing sheet. Did he bet with a bookie and later, when it became legal, 
with Off Track Betting? But Morris Pop Corn had always eschewed 

Morris Pop Corn 307 

such action. "You must be at the track to see the horses to know 
how to bet," he once explained. "I must see if the horses are sweat 
ing or taking a crap on the track. If a horse takes a crap on the 
track he is either nervous or the goniffs have put him off his feed to 
throw him off his running rhythm." 

In the end Morris Pop Corn was forced to lower himself to 
attending the night trotting tracks. It was a blow to him. "If God 
wanted horses to race with wheels," he once propounded, "He 
would have made them with wheels instead of legs." Morris Pop 
Corn hated the trotters. Were they more dishonest? "More dishon 
est," he sneered. "These goniffs are so dishonest and money hungry 
they even let me in!" 

Eventually justice prevailed for Morris Pop Corn. He discov 
ered that Garden State Racetrack in New Jersey would admit him. 
It was, as he put it, a bit of a "schlep," but joy, if not decorum, 
returned to Morris. And then came the crueliest blow of all ... 
Garden State burned to the ground and closed. 

Morris Pop Corn was seen at the trotters after that, but he 
hardly muttered an insult. To the few persons he talked to from 
time to time, he allowed that it was time for him to retire, perhaps 
to California. "They have year-round racing there," he observed. 

Someone noted he never worked by day and he never worked 
by night. "So how can you retire?" he was asked. 

Morris Pop Corn was enraged. "How do you know what kind 
of money I have? Do you know how to pick winners? Do you know 
how to pick losers?" 

In the past few years Morris Pop Corn has disappeared from 
New York. Those who know him hope he has not crossed that great 
finish line that even horseplayers cannot avoid, and that he has 
indeed ventured out to California where the goniffs are. 


Abbott, Benjamin, 81 
Adams, John Quincy, 60 
Adams, Thomas M., 91 
Adamski, George, 270-71 
Addams, Charles, 290 

Ainsworth, Made Marie (Sunny), 

Alcott, Bronson, 70, 72 
Alcott, Louisa May, 72 
Alee, Johnny, 178-79 
Algonquian Indians, 200 
Allen, John, 119-120 
Allen, Mrs. John, 119-120 
American Weekly, 277 
Anne of England, Queen, 11, 13 
Anonymous (The French Maid), 

Anonymous (The Naked 
Beachcomber), 32-33 
Anonymous (The Oldest American), 


Anthony, Susan B., 141 
Apples, 54 

Appleseed, Johnny, see Chapman, 


Arcaro, Eddie, 305 
Arkansas Tom, 152 
Around the World in Eighty Days, 116 
Arnold, Dorothy, 241 
Astor, John Jacob, 236, 288 
Astor, Vincent, 209 
Auer, Mischa, 184 
Austin, Warren, 275 
"Avenger of Blood, The," 109 
"Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, 

The } yt 101-4 

Bachiler, Helena, 3-4 
Bachiler, Mary, 4-5 
Bachiler, Stephen, 1-5 
Bager, Robert, 215 
Bandits, 27-28, 121-24, 128-30 
Barter, Dick, 128-30 
Battle-Axe and Weapons of War, 67 
Battle Axes, 67-68 
Baxter, John, xxii-xxiii 
Beecher, Henry Ward, 116 
Behind the Flying Saucer Mystery, 270 
Benga, Ota, 252-53 
Berger, Meyer, 98 
Bethune, James, 168-70 
Bethine, Thomas Greene, 168-170 
Bevens, James, 46-47 
Bierce, Ambrose, 241 
Billings, Cornelius K.G,, xv-xvi, 

Billy the Kid, 197 
Birch, James, 297 
Bishop, Sarah, 39-40 
Bivens, Joseph, Jr., 200-201 
Bizarre, 48 
Black Bart, 121-24 
Black, James, 116 
Blind Tom, see Bethune, 

Thomas Greene 
Bloomer, Amelia Jenks, 72, 126 
Bly, Nellie, 117 

Bolton, Charles, see Black Bart 
Book of the Damned, The, 242 
Book of the Indians, The, 7-8 
Bourglay, Jules (Old Leatherman), 

xvi, 109-13 

310 INDEX 

Bovar, Oric, 292-94 
Bowers, Bathsheba, 13-15 
Bowles, William Augustus, 42-44 
Boze, Wilhelmina Connelly (Billy), 


Brach, Frank, 287 
Brach, Helen, 287-88 
Braddock, James J., 285-86 
Brady, Tames "Diamond Tim," 


Briggs, Hattie, 234-35 
Brinkley, John R., 258-61 
Brocius, Curly Bill, 184 
Brokaw, William G., 233 
Brownlee, Dr. W.C., 102-3 
Buckland, James, 5-6 
Buckskin Joe see Higginbotham, 


Buffalo Republican, 87 
Bull, Ole, 155 
Bunker Hill, 196 
Burke, Clinton, 150 
Burnett, Carol, 292 
Burr, Joseph, 35 
Burton, Mary, 26 
Burton, Robert, 193 
Byrd, Richard, 183 
Byrd, William 32-33 

Cahnman, Werner, xvii 
Calamity Jane, see Cannary, 

Martha Jane 
Callender, Hannah, 35 
Campbell, Georgina, 279 
Cannary, Martha Jane (Calamity 

Jane), xvi, 150-53 
Carmer, Carl, 136 
Carnegie, Andrew, 186 
Carr, Red, 285 
Cartwright, Peter, 81 
Caruso, Enrico, 214 
Casanova, 284 
Cassidy, Butch, 199 
Caterpillar invasion, 22 
Cellular Cosmogony, The, 136 
Chabas, Paul, 145 

Chapman, John (Johnny Appleseed), 
xiv, 5154 

Cherry sisters, 275-77 

Chicago Herald, 137 

Chinn, Julia, 61-62 

Churchville, Carthage, 159 

Citizen Kane, 232 

Claffin, Tennessee, 116 

Clanton Gang, 184 

Classic, 288 

Clay, Henry, 50 

Clayton, Rev. Mr., 49-50 

Cleveland, Grover, 134 

Cody, Buffalo Bill, 249 

Coit, Benjamin Howard, 142 

Coit, Lillie, 141-43 

"College of Life," 137 

Collins, Lizzie, 16566 

Collyer, Homer and Langley,xvi, 

254-56, 288, 290 
Complete History of Connecticut, 9 
"complex marriage," 94 
Comstock, Anthony, 14346 
Comstockery, 143 
Coneys, Theodore, 256-58 
Congressional Medal of Honor, 

Connelly, James Leo "One-Eyed, " 

xvi, 220-22 
Cook, Tom, 27-28 
Copernicus, Nicolas, 224 
Corbett, Boston, 107-09 
Corbett, James J., 176, 283-84 
Cork Mag, 99 

Cornbury, Edward Hyde, 11-13 
Cornbury, Lady, 11-12 
Corrigan, Douglas "Wrong Way,"xx 
Corvallis, Ore., 203-5 
counterfeiting, 24648 
Coxey, General Jacob Sechler, 100, 

Coyle, Richard, 20 
Cragin, Mary, 95 
Carzy Dow, see Dow, Lorenzo 
Credit Mobilier, 116 
Creffield, Edmund Franz, 202-5 
Curran, John, 172-73 
Curran, John "One Lung," 17678 
Curtis, Tony, 301 

Daily Racing Form, 305 
Dark Trees to the Wind, 136 
Day Dream, 210 
Delaney, Jack, 284 
Dell, George, 113 

Demara, Ferdinand Waldo, Jr., 


Dempsey, Jack, 263, 294 
Dexter, Timothy, 28-31 
Diederich, Hugo, 268-270 
Dobbin, James, 92 
Dolbeare, Lucy, 57 
Doubt, 242 

Dow, Lorenzo (1777-1834), 54-57 
Dow, Lorenzo (1825-1899), 57 
Dowie, John Alexander, 148-49, 227 
Drake, John, 187 
Drake, Samuel, 7-8 
Dreiser, Theodore, 240-41 
Duke, Doris, 236 
Dunster, Henry, 13 
Dwight, Theodore, 103 
Dym, Roe, 294-95 

Eads, James, 206 
Edison, Thomas, xix, 73 
Edwards, Bonita, 279 
Edwards, Marcelle, 279 
Einstein, Albert, 244-45, 260 
Elite Directory, 289 
Ellis, Havelock, 66 
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 70 
Erdien, Christina, 179 
Euthanasia: The Aesthetics of Suicide, 

Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science, 


Farinelli, Carlo Broschi, 168 
Fatima, Princess, 272-74 
Faunce, Cy Q., 223-24 
Female Benevolent Society, 78 
Ferguson, Jack, 16162 
Fielding, John, 5-6 
Finely, J.B., 81 

Fitzpatrick, Catherine, 98-99 
Flagler, Anna, 179-81 

INDEX 311 

Flagler, John, 180-81 

Flaming Sword, The, 137 

Fletcher, Mary, 99 

Flinn,John J,, 80 

Fly, 225 

Flying Saucers Have Landed, 270 

Ford, Henry, xix 

Fort, Charles, 240-44 

Fortean Society Magazine, 242 

Fortean Times, The, 243 

Franklin, Benjamin, 17 

Free Love Valley, 68 

Freeman, Louis, 153 

Freud, Sigmund, xxi 

Friends, see Quakers and Friends 

Frothingham, Elizabeth, 29-31 

Furgler, Francis, 36 

Further Disclosures of Maria Monk, 103 

Galileo, xx, 94, 183, 224 
Gardner, Marshall B., 135-36, 


Gardner, Martin, 243 
Gardner, Mrs. Jack, xvi 
Garrett, Henrietta, 158-59 
Garrett, Walter, 158-59 
Garrison, William Lloyd, 116 
Gaston, Pat, 279 

Gates, Bet-A-Million (John W.), 

185-88, 248 
Gates, Charles, 248-49 
Gates, Theophilus, 66-69 
General History of Connecticut, 22 
Genesee Falls, 88 
George I of England, King, 15 
George II of England, King, 15 
Gillette, George Francis, 244-45 
Gold Heels, 190 
Golden Rule Distillery, 42 
Goodall, Nick, 154-56 
Goodyear, Delores, 243 
Gophers, 176-77 
Goring, Hermann, xix 
Gould, Jay, 133 
Graham, Sylvester, 70-73 
graham cracker, 70 
Grant, Ulysses S., 104-54, 144-45 

312 INDEX 

Grant, Wells, xxii-xxiii 
Greatest Story Ever Told, The, 217 
Greeley, Horace, 72 
Green, Edward H., 130-31 
Green, Hetty, xiv, 130-33, 207-10, 

236-38, 288 
Green, Mabel, 209 
Green, Ned, 131-33, 207-10, 


Green Mountain Muse, 75 
Gringo and the Greaser, The, 157 
Gromyko, Andrei, 275 
Guiding Star, The, 137 

Halderman, Julius, E., 260 
Hamilton, Alexander, 29 
Hammerstein, Oscar, 276 
Harden-Hickey, James A., 179-81 
Harding, Warren, 274 
Harmony, 41 
Harper, Richard, 79-80 
Harrison, William Henry, 62 
Hartford Globe, 111 
Hatless Preacher, xv 
Hatzitheodorou, Stephanos, 293 
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 87 
Hearst, William Randolph, 218 
Hecht, Ben, 240, 242-43 
Helper, Hinton Rowan, 117-19 
Henry, George W., 81-83 
Henry, Patrick, 48 
Hermit, The, 36 

hermits, see recluses and hermits 
Herold, David, 108 
Herzog, Felix, 298 

Herzog, Helene and Beatrice, 


Herzog, Philip, 297 
Hickok, Wild Bill, 150-53 
Higginbotham, Joe, 163 
Himmler, Heinrich, xx 
Hitchcock, Charles M., 142 
Hitler, Adolf, xviii xix, 60 
Hoicomb, Peggy, 56 
Hollow Earthers, 56-60, 135-38, 

Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 25 

Hoiton, Harriet, 95 

Hopkins, Matthew, 78 

Hornaday, William, 253 

Hotel Dieu, 101-2 

How, Eliza Ann Eads, 206 

How, James Eads, 206-7 

Howells, William Dean, 88 

Hoyt, W.K., 100-102 

Huber, Florence, 278-79 

Hudson Duster, 177 

Hughes, Howard, xxii 

Hughes, Robert Earl, 178 

Huntington, Collis P., 133 

Hurt, Maude, 204-5 

Hurt, Mr. and Mrs. Frank, 204-5 

Hurt, Victor, 204 

Hutton, Barbara, 236 

Hyde, Sam, 68 

Illumination ofKoresh, 136 
Immortal Manhood, The, 137 
Impending Crisis of the South, The, 


Inside the Space Ships, 270 
Iroquois Indians, 200 

Jack the Rat, 140 
Jackson, Andrew, 6061 
James, Jesse, 121 
Jenkins, Florence Foster, 213-16 
Jenkins, Frank Thornton, 214 
John (John Randolph s slave), 50 
Johns, James, 75-77 
Johnson, Adaline, 6162 
Johnson, Imogene, 61-62 
Johnson, Richard M., 60, 61-63 
Johnston, John, 113-14 
Jones, Rev. Mr., xviii xix 
Jordan, John, 174 
Joshua II, see Cref field, Edmund 


Journey to the Center of the Earth, 60 
Journey to the Earth s Interior, 182 
Juettner, Emerich, 246-48 

Kanawha, 196 

Kellogg, John Harvey, 72-73 

Kelly, Alvin "Shipwreck," xvi, 


Kelly, Margaret, 26 
Kelly, John, 99 
Ketchum, "Black Jack* Tom, 

197-99, 202 
Ketchum, Sam, 202 
Keys, John R., 295 
King, Sandy, 185 
Kissinger, Henry, 156 
Klein, Nicholas, 206 
Koreshanity, 136-37 
Kopenick, Captain of, xix 
Krafft-Ebing, 66 
Kretchmar, Herman, 159 
Kretchmar, Howard, 159 
Kusz, Charles, 156-57 

La Prensa, 302 
Labelliere, Peter, xviii 
Landon, Alf, 260 
Large, 39, 83-84 
Laron, Marguerite, 111 
Lawson, Alfred William, 223-26 
Lawsononomy, 223-26 
Lay, Benjamin, 15-18 
Lay, Sarah, 15-17 
Leaves of Grass, 145 
Leaves of Healing, 229 
"Lecture to Young Men on Chastity, A," 

Lee Ah Bow, 98-100 

Lee, Mother Ann, 23-24 

Lee, Robert E., 104 

Leedskalnin, Edward, xvi, 265-67 

Leese, George "Snatchem", 140-41 

Lewis, Milan, 155 

Liancorurt, Due de, 38 

Libby Prison, 126 

Lick, James, 73-75,265 

Lick House, 74 

Lick Observatory, 74-5 

Lincoln, Abraham, xv, 70, 107-8, 
118, 154 

Lincoln, Mary Todd, 84, 154 

Linkowski, John, 99 

Liveright, Horace, 242 

INDEX 313 

Lo! 9 242 

Loeb, William, 156 

Lohr, Eduard von, xx 

London Daily Mail 243 

Lorenz, Adolf, 274 

Louis Sherry s Restaurant, xiii, 197 

Lowell, James Russell, 72 

Luciano, Lucky, 294 

McBride, James, 60 
McCall, Jack, 151-52 
McCoin, Lois Arline, 278-79 
McDowall, John, 77-79 
McDowall s Journal, 78 
McEwan, Peter, xviii 
MacFadden, Bernarr, 216-19 
McGillivray, 44 
Mclntyre, O.O., 301 
McKelway, St. Clair, 248 
McLoughlin, Denis, 157 
McQuain, John 33-34 
Magdalen Refuges, 78 
Maharaja Thakov, 260 
Maiden Lane, 18 
Mallon, Mary, 211-12 
Man Who Fooled Hitler, The, xviii 
Manlife, 224 

Manville, Tommy, 277-79 
Marcelle, Madame, 267 
Marcy, William, 92 
Marie, Queen, 274-75 
Marquand, J.P., 31 
Marshall, James Wilson, 96-97 

Martindale, A.C., 282 

Masters, Edgar Lee, 242 

Mastin,JJ., 91 

Mather, Cotton, xv, 182 

Matthew, Robert, 160-61 

Mayfield, Ida, see Walsh, Ellen 

Mayfield, Thomas Henry, 134 

Mencken, H.L., 243 

Merwin, Abigail, 94 

Midnight Cry, The, 64 

Miller, Joaquin, 142 

Miller, Rachel, 38 

Miller, William, 63-66 

Minnehaha, S.S., 252 

314 INDEX 

misers, xiv, 130-33, 192-93, 

236-38, 254-56, 288-92 
Mrs. Warren s Profession, 146 
Mr. 880, see Juettner, Emerich 
Mitchell, Esther, 204-5 
Mitchell, George, 205 
Model Airplane, 217 
Monk, Maria, 100-104 
Moody, Joseph "Handkerchief," xix, 


Moody, Samuel, 21 
Moore, Everett, 288 
Morgan, J.P., 186, 188, 209, 250-52 
Morning Telegraph, 305-6 
Morris Pop Corn, 305-7 
Morris, Thomas Patrick, 291 
Moses, Robert, 231 
"Ms. Found in a Bottle," 60 
Muenter, Erich, 250-52 
Munday, George H.,xvi-xvii 
Murphy, Archie, 165-66 

Nader, Ralph, xvii 
Napoleon, 87 

Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, 60 

Narrowsburg Democrat, 201 

Negri, Pola, 274 

Negroes in Negroland, 118 

New Harmony, 41 

"New Jerusalem, The," 137-38 

New Lands, 242 

New York Daily News, 113, 134 

New York Evening Graphic, 217-19, 


New York Herald, 63-64, 103 
New York Society for the 

Suppression ot Vice, 144 
New York Times, 112-13, 199, 273-74, 


New York World, 277 
New York World-Telegram, 215 
New Yorker, The, 248, 281 
Newsom, Benjamin, 91 
Nickport News, 90 
Nojoque, 118 

"Nonstop Toilet of Leek Street," 243 
Noonday Exigencies, 118 

Norton, Joshua A., 105-7, 141 
Notes on the Collection of Transfers, 281 
Noyes, John Humphrey, 66, 68-69, 

O Hair, Madalyn Murray, xvii 
Old Leatherman, see Bourglay, Jules 
Oliver, Perry H., 168 
Oneida Communtiy, 94-96 
Oofty Goofty, 173, 175-76 
Orthodox Oxen, 245 
O Sullivan, Dennis, 104-5 
Oursler, Fulton, 217 

Palace Hotel, 74, 143 

Palmer, Joseph, xvii, 69-70 

Parisian Mansion, The, 267 

Parker, J.W., 91-92 

Parkhurst, Charlie, 167-68 

Parr, Thomas, 6 

Patch, Sam, 86-88 

Pelley, William Dudley, 261 

Pennington, Alley, 46-47 

Perfectionist, The, 67 

Perkins, Benjamin, 25 

Perkins, Elisha, 25-26 

Peters, Bernadette, 292 

Peters, Mrs. Philip, 257-58 

Peters, Philip, 256-58 

Peters, Samuel Andrew, 22-23 

Phyle, Francis Adam Joseph, 35-36 

Physical Culture, 217 

Pickle for the Knowing Ones, A, 31 

Pierce, Benny, 85-86 

Pierce, Franklin, 85, 92 

Pierce, Jane Means, 84-86 

Pinkertons, 122 

Pocahontas, 49 

Poe, Edgar Allan, 60 

Poillon, Charlotte, 232-34 

Poillon, Katherine, 232-34 

Police Gazette, 191-92, 233, 267 

Popery, 102 

Portales, Edouard, 303 

Potter, Jack, 198 

Potter, Mrs. William, 38 

Pound, Dan, 163-64 

Powys, Jon Cowper, 242 
Pratt, Daniel, 89-90 
Prince, Abigail Norman, 194-95 
Prince and the Pauper, The, 104 
Prince, Frederick Henry, 194-95 
Prince of Wales, 134 
Providence Journal, 47 
Putnam, Ann, 100 

Quakers and Friends, 8, 15-18, 19, 

Quiz Kids, 281 

Randolph, John, 48-50 

Randolph s slave, John, see John 

Ransford, Mary, 10 

Rapp, Johann Georg, 41-42 

Rapp,John, 42 

Rappites, 41-42 

Rascoe, Burton, 242 

Rational, Non-Mystical Cosmos, 245 

Rattlesnake Dick, see Barter, Dick 

Read, Charles, 36 

Rector, Charles, 189-90 

recluses and hermits, xiv, xx, 5-6, 
32-36, 39-40, 45-47, 83-84, 
158-59, 163, 164, 254-56, 
287-88, 288-92, 295 

Reformer, The, 67 

Reichenbach, Henry, 14546 

Reynolds, John J., 60 

Richardson, John, 18-20 

Rickard, Tex, 222 

Riley, James "Butt," 173-74 

Ringo,John, 184 

Ripley, Robert, 239 

Robert the Hermit, 45-47 

Robinson Crusoe, 32 

Roddy-Eden, Anita Frances, 279 

Rogerenes, 911 

Rogers, John, 9-11 

Romero Family, 301-4 

Roosevelt, Franklin D., 232 

Rosenbloom, Slapsie Maxie, 286 

Royal Order of Tibet, 270 

Runyon, Damon, 305 

Russell, Lillian, 190 

INDEX 315 

Russian Bill, see Tattenbaum, 

Sable, Jean Baptiste Pointe de, 79 
Sacco and Vanzetti, 194 
Sagan, Carl, 136 
Sager, Henry, 91 
St. Louis Globe Democrat, 192 
San Francico Bulletin, 105, 124 
San Francisco Chronicle, 107 
San Francisco Morning Call, 74 
Sanger, Margaret, 145 
Schafer, Johann, 159 
Schmidt, Elfried, xx-xxi 
Schmidt, William Henry "Burro," 

xvi, 238-39 
Schrabisch, Max, 201 
Senior, Stephen, xvi, 192-93 
"September Morn," 145-46 
Seventh Day Baptists, 9 
Shakers, 23-24 
Sharkey, Tom, 100 
Shaw, George Bernard, 143, 146 
Sheriff and Police, 198 
Sherman, Charles R., 146-48 
Sherman, Dell, 148 
Sherman, John, 118 
Sherman, William Tecumseh, 126 
Sidis, Boris, 280-81 
Sidis, William James, 280-81 
Sitweil, Edith, xviii 
Skinner, Cyrus, 129 
Skinner, George, 129 
Slattery, Jimmy, 283-86 
Slocum, JohnJ.L., 102-3 
Small, Ambrose, 241 
Smith, Joseph, 72 
Smith, "Windwagon" Thomas, 


Smith, William, 11 
Smith, William, 234-35 
Smith s Magazine, 242 
Social Register, 289 
Soper, George, 211 
Sorrel, Clematis, 113 
Stanton, Edwin, 107 
Starr, Charles, 159 

316 INDEX 

Steele, Frances, 264 
Stevenson, Robert Louis, 142 
Stone, Irving, 164 
Stuart, Dan, 220 
Stuyvesant, Annie, 230-31 
Stuyvesant, Augustus Van Home, 


Stuyvesant, Katie, 230-31 
Stuyvesant, Peter, 230-31 
Sullivan, Dennis, 177 
Sullivan, John L., 176, 284 
Sutliff, John, 170-77 
Sutter, John, 96-97 
Swope, Luther A., 290 
Symmes, John Cleves, 58-60, 61, 

135-36, 182-83 

Tattenbaum, William, 183-85 

Taylor, Avonne, 279 

Teed, Cyrus Reed, 135-38 

Telfrin, Countess, 184-85 

Terman, Lewis, 281 

Thayer, Tiffany, 242 

Thomas, Norman, 205 

Thoreau, Henry, xvi, 70 

Tilden, Samuel J., 134 

Tilton, Elizabeth, 116 

Time, xvii, 216 

Train, George Francis, 115-17 

Train Ligne, The, 116 

Trask, George, 69 

Treat, Lawrence, 111 

Treubert, Raymond, 293 

True Story, 217 

Trueman, Rev. Mr., xix 

Trumbull, Benjamin, 9 

Tyler, John, 62 

Typhoid Mary, see Mallon, Mary 

UFOs, 270-71 
Uncle Tom s Cabin, 45, 117 
United Nations, 275 
United States, 209-10 
Universal Friends, 37-39 

Valentino, Rudolph, 274 
Van Buren, Martin, 61-63 

Venadis, 196-97 

Vermont Autograph and Remarker, 75 

Verne, Jules, 60, 116 

Verner, Samuel, 252 

Vestal, Stanley, 93 

"Viper John," 48 

Voight, Wilhelm, xix 

Voliva, Wilbur Glenn, 149, 226-29 

Waldo, Surgeon Albigence, 35 

Walker, Dr. Mary, 125-27 

Walker, Jimmy, 285 

Wall, Berry, xvi 

Walsh, Ellen, alias Mayfield, Ida, 

Wanamaker, John, 209 

wanderers, xiv, 89-90, 109-13, 


Watertown Standard, 147 
Wechsberg, Joseph, xx 
Wellington, Duke of, 87 
Wells, Pete, 161-62 
Wells, Fargo, 121, 1224 
Wendel, John Daniel, 288-89 
Wendel, John Gottlieb, 288-91 
Wendel, John Gottlieb Matthias, 288 
Wendel sisters, 288-92 
Wesley, John, 81 

West, James Marion, Jr., 282-83 
West, Sandra Ilene, xviii, 304 
Weyman, Stanley Clifford, 272-75 
Weyman on Medico-Jurisprudence, 274 
White, George, 80 
White, William Allen, 260-61 
Whitefield, George, 14 
Whitman, Walt, 145 
Whittier, John Greenleaf, 15 
"Wickedest Man in New York," 119 
Wilbur, David, 57-58 
Wild Talents, 242 
Wilhelm, Kaiser, 127 
Wilkinson, Jemima, 37-39 
Wilks, Matthew Astor, 236 
Wilks, Sylvia Green, 131-33, 236-38 
Williams, Lizzie, 99 
Williamson, Hannah, 67-68 
Williamson, Lydia, 68 

INDEX 317 

Wilson, Woodrow, 146 Woodhull, Victoria, 116 

Winchell, Walter, 216 Woollcott, Alexander, 242 

Winchester, Sarah Pardee, 138-39 Wright, Richardson, 13, 58 

Winchester Mansion, 138-39 Wright Brothers, ixx, 68 

Winnie, xxii- xxiii Wrigley, P.K., Jr., 222 
Wmthrop, Gov. John, 1,3 

Witness, The, V Young Stnblmg, 284 
Wittrock, Frederick 191 22? _ 29 

Wood, Ben, 134-35 7 * 

(continued from front flap) 

lives of these peculiar people and a host of 
other spendthrifts, misers, witches, quacks, 
hermits, gay blades, lotharios, tricksters, 
impostors, trans vestites, pests and assorted 
other characters come startlingly alive. In 
all, the book contains a wonderful cross 
section of zany Americans. 

fact is stranger than fiction especially 
among America s individuals. 


Carl Sifakis is a crime reporter and writer. 
Before he became a free-lance writer, he 
worked for UPI and The Buffalo Evening 
News. Mr. Sifakis is author of THE 
HISTORIC NICKNAMES, as well as sev 
eral other books and numerous articles. 

Jacket Design: Oksana Kushnir 

IV "-; 


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